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.BYWAYS Of HISTORY 

* : <SolS, ^nd-sflvar'-ivoiy, and apes, and peacocks/ 

I Kings x:22 




THE LAND OF THE GREAT IMAGE 

Being Experiences of Friar Manrique in Arakan 

by Maurice Collis 

"I found that I could not put it down I recommend it to 
all readers who, sharing my state of mind, might welcome 
a journey into a strange pocket of history/' 

CLIFTON FADIMAN in the New Yorker 



CARDINAL OF SPAIN 
The Life and Strange Career of Alberoni 

by Simon Harcourt-Smith 



THE LAND OF PRESTER JOHN 

A Chronicle of Portuguese Exploration 

by Elaine Sanceau 

THESE ARE BORZOI BOOKS, PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF 




The Land of Prester John 




THE LAND OF 



Prester 
John 



A Chronicle of Portuguese 
Exploration 



By Elaine jSanceau 

Corresponding Member 
of the Institute de Coimbra 




Alfred A. Knopf @ 




^ Ne&j York : 1944 



t: 

) 



*.Tf$te 5jOp 3AS BEEN PRODUCED 
* ***" : "rtf FtTli COMPLIANCE 

AT.T, GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS 
CONSEEVATION OF PAPER, METAL, 

AND OTHER ESSENTIAL MATERIALS 



I 



COPYRIGHT 1944 BY ELAINE SANCEAU 

All ri^its reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form 
without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who 
may quote brief .passages in a review to be printed in a magazine or news- 
paper. Manufactured in the United States of America. Published simulta- 
neously in Canada by The Ryerson Press. 

FIRST AMERICAN EDITION 




PABTI 
HOW PORTUGAL SOUGHT PRESTER JOHN 

Chapter Page 

1. THE WANDERING MYTH 3 

2. THE LOST FORERUNNER 13 

3. THE ODYSSEY OF MATTHEW 20 

4. A DREAM IN THE DESERT 35 

5. A FRUSTRATED MISSION 46 

6. THE IMPROVISED EMBASSY 62 

7. PRESTER JOHN AT LAST! 76 

8. A PROLONGED VISIT 86 



PARTII 
HOW PORTUGAL SAVED PRESTER JOHN 

9. THE PATRIARCH'S RECRUITS 105 

10. DOM GKISIOVAO TO THE RESCOE 117 

11* DOM GRISTOVAO AND THE ETHIOPIAN QDEEN 123 

12. THE CLASH OF ARMS 133 

1& GRANYE'S REVENGE 142 

14. ETHIOPIA DELIVERED 150 

vfi 



Contents 



III 
THE' P'AtflWG OF THE WAYS 

Uhapter Page 

15. HERESY AND SCHISM 165 

16. THE BISHOP TAKES A HAND 170 

17. WHAT TRAVELLERS TO ABYSSINIA MIGHT EXPECT 184 

18. SUCCESS 200 

19. THE ALTERNATIVE ROUTE 209 

20. ROME VERSUS ALEXANDRIA 217 

21. THE END OF A DREAM 229 
NOTES 235 
CHRONOLOGY 237 
BIBLIOGRAPHY 241 

MAPS AND ILLUSTRATION 

Map showing relationship of Portuguese India to the land of 

Prester John - 40 

Map of Abyssinia showing itineraries of Dom Cristovao da 

Gama and Dom Rod'igo de Lima 70 

Coasts of the Red Sea in 1513 124 

Frontispiece of the first edition of Father Francisco Alvares's 

book on Ethiopia 156 





JLhe modern traveller, lolling time at Estoril while waiting 
for a passage on the Clipper, does not often give much thought 
to the country he is passing through. A kindly people, and a 
sunny sky some bathing, and some golf perhaps a smoke- 
less city drenched in light hanging picturesquely from pre- 
cipitous hills above a broad blue river may well be all that 
Portugal will stand for in his memory. He is far too apt to for- 
get the world history that was prepared beside these smiling 
shores. 

He may not realize that he owes it to Portugal that he 
should be a modern traveller at aB! This blue estuary shining 
in the sun was the highway that first led ships to the world's 
end. The simple courteous people that he sees around descend 
from pioneers. They are a nation that has lived adventurously 
and made its mark upon the earth. 

Its traces may be found over four continents. Portugal has 
had an African adventure, as witnessed by the batdemented 
towers she left beside Moroccan beaches, by the names she 
wrote on the map, and the vast territories of Angola, Mozam- 
bique, and Guinea, where she is mistress still. 

She had an American adventure too, and founded a great 
nation on the far shore of the Atlantic to grow amid the riches 
of the forests and the mountains of Brazil 



Introduction 

Her Indian adventure can still be traced today by ruined 
fortresses at all strategic points around the Indian Ocean, and 
her language is spoken still throughout the Orient where men 
of Portuguese descent are found among the native races from 
East Africa to the spice archipelagoes of the Pacific. 

There was an Abyssinian adventure as well, of which fewer 
traces remain a side-line it turned out to be and yet in 
many ways it was the strangest and the most heroic of all. 

It was not intended as a side-line when first embarked upon 
quite the contrary. Henry the Navigator and the kings who 
continued his task looked to the Christian Empire of Ethiopia 
as the cornerstone of their great enterprise. To understand 
their dream we must go back to mediaeval times and remem- 
ber the Holy War waged by Christians against the Moslem 
hordes, for ever threatening to engulf Europe. 

Portugal as a nation was born of the Crusades. When, in 
711, the Moors overran the Iberian Peninsula, a handful of 
Gothic warriors with their King withdrew to the Asturian 
mountains. From that impregnable stronghold the armies of 
the Cross defied Islam and set out to reconquer by degrees 
the land that they had lost. It took them seven hundred years, 
and crusaders from many European countries came to bear 
apart. 

Thus in the eleventh century a French prince carried arms 
against the Infidel under the King of Castile and Le6n. As a 
reward he was given in fief the lands that he had conquered 
from the Moors, by the Atlantic Ocean. So Portugal came into 
being, and some decades later threw off her allegiance to the 
Castilian crown and stood, and fought, alone. 

This independence was not won without a struggle. Castile, 
diree times more powerful, resented the emancipation of the 
younger realm, but Portugal held firm. After a terrible dynas- 
tic crisis during which annexation appeared imminent, she 
defeated her enemy in 1385 and so saved her existence as a 
nation. . 

The Moorish Kingdom of Algarve last Moslem strong- 



Introduction 

hold in the south of Portugal had been conquered a cen- 
tury earlier. But the Moors still remained at Granada and in 
North Africa a potential menace always, a peril that had 

The Paynim horde outside the gate that was the spectre 
that haunted mediaeval Christendom upon its southern and 
its eastern borders. If the Moslems of Africa and Asia should 
one day unite, all would be up with Christian Europe. That 
is why the medisevals thought so lovingly of Prester John 
Christian King in Africa who might protect their flank. Why 
Prester and why John historians and Orientalists have not 
made clear, but whatever its origin, men of the fifteenth cen- 
tury were convinced that the Emperor of Abyssinia bore this 
tide. 

Little was known about his empire except that it was vast 
and, though in the heart of the Moslem world, it had always 
been Christian. To find this isolated champion of the faith, to 
make alliance with him against the common foe, to make con- 
tact through him with the Nestorian Christians in the spice 
lands of the Orient, became the aim of Portugal, born a cru- 
sading nation. 

The story of this quest, undertaken in faith and carried 
through tenaciously in spite of every hardship and setback, is 
one of the most romantic in history. It all turned out quite 
differently from what had been expected and hoped for, but 
the strange fruitless adventure of Portugal in search of Prester 
John remains a high light in the records of human endeavour. 



PART I 
HOW PORTUGAL SOUGHT PRESTER JOHN 





The Wandering Myth 




A world of phantoms floated around mediaeval Christendom. 
Europe saw itself as a small oasis a spot of light where true 
religion reigned and life was normal, while mystery and magic 
veiled everything beyond. 

To the west surged the ocean which no man had crossed, 
impassable and enigmatic as infinity; to the east and south all 
trailed away into the outer dark The earth went on, men 
knew, but none could say just how. It was a wonderful and 
wicked world that lay beyond the Christians* ken a world 
of paynims and of infidels, of sorcery and enchantment. 
Strange stories filtered through from time to time like echoes 
from another planet; strange apparitions now and then broke 
forth, as when a man of unknown race from the world's end 
was seen on the confines of Christendom, or else sometimes 
a Christian, greatly daring, would himself disappear into the 
shades. At other times, more terrible than all, was heard the 
gallop of horses bearing wild yellow warriors across the east- 
ern steppe, and Europe trembled lest she might be swamped 
by those demoniac hordes let loose from some region of name- 
less horror. 

The Crusades served to lift a corner of the veil. Hie cru- 
saders, touching the fringe of the unknown, heard and saw 
many things. Thus Europe was made aware of Far Cathay and 



The Land of Prester John 

the Great Khan, the Old Man of the Mountain and his Assas- 
sins, and so it was that from the dim light of far away there 
rose and grew the tale of Prester John. 

Nobody was sure exactly where might be the realm of 
Prester John, sole Christian ruler in a heathen continent, but 
no one doubted his existence. There was no king on earth like 
Prester John. His robes were washed in fire and woven by the 
salamander. He lived in an enchanted palace in the moun- 
tains, and in front of it a magic mirror stood where he could 
see his vast dominions at a glance. Seven kings waited con- 
stantly on Prester John, as well as sixty dukes, three hundred 
and sixty counts, and knights and noblemen beyond compute. 
Thirty archbishops sat at his right hand, and twenty bishops 
on his left. A king and abbot was his cook, a king bishop his 
butler, an archimandrite his master of horse, an archbishop 
his pantler. Surrounded by menials of such exalted rank, how 
could he also style himself a king? Besides, this mighty poten- 
tate was perfect, therefore humble. So he was known as Pres- 
byter or Prester John. 

His kingdom was the land where dreams come true. The 
Fountain of Youth flowed there and subterranean streams of 
gems. There might be picked up the magic stone that gives 
sight to the blind or makes a man invisible. No poor were in 
the land of Prester John, nor misers, nor thieves, nor mur- 
derers, nor even flatterers. There all men spoke the truth, and 
vice did not exist. It was the earthly paradise that no man has 
yet found. 

Such was the mirage that shone before the eyes of the 
twelfth century. Its colours faded as the years passed by, but 
still the myth endured. As a night wanderer follows a will-o'- 
the-wisp, mediaeval imagination pursued Prester John, whose 
kingdom in like manner moved from end to end of Asia. 
Sometimes it was alleged to lie beyond the Persian mountains, 
sometimes in India, and sometimes on the far-off Mongolian 
steppes near China. 

By the fourteenth century it had travelled west. The fact 

4 



The Wandering Myth 

had dawned on Europe that a Christian kingdom existed in 
Africa. Abyssinian pilgrims sometimes visited the Holy Land, 
but nobody was certain where they came from. Inaccessible 
mountains, it was rumoured, locked their kingdom round. 
What could it be if not the land of Prester John? Prester John 
of the Indies they called him still, the vague geography of the 
time confusing India with east Africa. 

The realm of Prester John had ceased to be a synonym for 
fairyland, but it remained alluringly remote. This outpost of 
the faith, lost and cut off, was almost as appealing to imagina- 
tion. When mediaeval dreams gave way to the pursuit of facts, 
then men set out to seek for the reality. 

It was a prince of Portugal who led the way. Henry the 
Navigator stood between two worlds the dying Middle 
Ages and the dawning Renaissance. The mysticism of the one 
and the insatiable curiosity of the other were the driving 
forces which controlled his life. He was a crusader and a man 
of science rolled into one. 

Dom Henrique was born in 1394 the end of an age to 
a nation on the threshold of new destinies. He was third son 
of the King Joao I, that valiant bastard who had upheld the 
independence of the realm against the armies of Castile and 
so won for himself his father's crown. 

The revolution of 1382 and the long wars that followed had 
shaken Portugal to her foundations but left her spiritually re- 
newed. An old order had been swept away with the corrupt 
court of the late King Fernande; a new dynasty sat on me 
throne, a new generation of statesmen gathered around it; 
new ideas were in the air, new energies were stirring in the 
blood it was a nation's springtime. 

The Infante Dom Henrique inherited the martial instincts 
of his father, and the earnest devotion of his mother, Philippa 
of Lancaster, the daughter of Chaucer's ''good Duchess 
Blaunche." He was, moreover, the grandson of John of Gaunt, 
patron of letters, and the descendant of Alfonse el Sabio of 
Castile, and Dom Diniz, who founded Coimbra University. 

5 



The Land of Prester John 

Thus there was intellectual ancestry on either side; Dom Hen- 
rique and his brothers developed a thirst for knowledge at an 
early age, and from childhood they read and collected books. 

The influences of their environment, however, were against 
mere contemplative cultivation of the mind and soul. Joao 
and Philippa's five brilliant sons were born in the hour of tri- 
umph in a country that had just been fighting for its life. They 
were surrounded by men of action, and it was the heroes who 
had won the victory that were the guides and models of their 
boyhood. Between these and their mother, the young princes 
were brought up in an atmosphere of practical piety and 
high-minded militarism. The late war had been of the defen- 
sive order *'a just war to obtain peace/' the Constable Nu- 
nalvares Pereira had defined it, which reminds us of the mod- 
ern slogan "a war to end war." 

The total end of war, however, was a Utopia of which medi- 
aevals rarely dreamed. All knights and gentlemen had to be 
soldiers, but Henrique's generation had inherited a tradition 
of fighting for the right. Their fathers* swords had won their 
country's freedom; the sons who grew up in a land at peace 
aspired to win their maiden spurs in the defence of a good 
cause. 

For men of the Iberian Peninsula, a good cause was never 
far to seek. Their kingdoms were the buffer states of Chris- 
tendom against the Moslem hordes outside the pale. Close to 
their gates still raged a holy war, which had known intervals 
of truce, but never peace, during six hundred years. It is true 
that the Moor had been pushed out of Portugal, but across the 
narrow straits, beyond the sea, his palmy cities flourished 
almost within Christian sight. When Dom Henrique and his 
brothers wished to win their knightly spurs, it seemed to them 
that a high and holy enterprise would be the conquest of 
Ceuta. 

Queen Philippa backed up her sons* suggestions to their 
father. "Since God in His mercy has been pleased to give 
them strength of mind and body," said she, "I would not for 

6 



The Wandering Myth 

the world that they should fail to execute works such as these, 
however difficult!" * 

So it was that, carrying with them a dying mothers bless- 
ing, Dom Henrique and his brothers sailed across the straits 
and were knighted by their father in the conquered Moorish 
town. 

That hour fixed a nation's destiny. A young man with an 
inquiring mind had his first taste of Africa, and found that he 
was gazing at a mystery. 

Ceuta was the fairest town along the Moorish coast It over- 
flowed with lovely things from far away. It was rich with 
pearls from the Persian Gulf, with rubies from Ceylon, per- 
fumes of Syria, and silks of Egypt, Within the flat-roofed 
houses faced with coloured tiles were carpets from the Per- 
sian looms and embroideries from India. Behind the houses 
there were mosaic courts, scented with orange trees and musi- 
cal with f ountains; behind the town were fields of sugar-cane, 
orchards, and trailing vines; behind the orchards were the 
hills, and then behind those what? 

Ceuta, divided from the Christian world by a few leagues 
of sea, was the last link of a long chain that began in the totally 
unknown. And this chain could be followed back, Henrique 
knew, to Satan's seat those lands where Islam reigned un- 
challenged and supreme. For centuries the Infidel had held 
the key to the earth's richest treasures. Now that the young 
prince saw Ceuta mosque transformed into a Christian 
church, he dreamed of new and greater triumphs for the 
Cross. Should not the warriors of Christ pursue the "abomi- 
nable sect of Mohammed" across the world and tear it like an 
evil thing from its Far Eastern stronghold? Ceuta should be 
only a beginning Ceuta between the desert and the sea, 
with a vast unknown continent behind. How far into this 
mysterious land did the accursed Crescent hold its sway? Had 
Africa an end, or did it run from pole to pole? Where beyond 
those hills of darkness lay the realm of Prester John, that iso- 
lated champion of the faith who would surely welcome help 

7 



The Land of Prester John 

against the common foe? If Prester John could but join forces 
with the Christians of the West, could they not then destroy 
Islam? And the land of Prester John was on the way to India, 
that fabled treasure-house of spice and gold. Had not St. 
Thomas found his way to India and planted there a Christian 
church? 

Dom Henrique went home with his mind full of questions. 
How to reach Prester John and get in touch with that myste- 
rious India that Alexander's armies had seen long ago? The 
land routes of the Orient were closed to Europe. Everywhere 
the Crescent barred the way, and so to reach the Christians 
of the East, Dom Henrique chose the path of the Dark Ocean. 

That was a fearsome undertaking. "No man sailing south 
of Cape Bojador returns alive!" declared mediaeval wisdom. 
A region of nameless horror stretched beyond. The Middle 
Ages formulated theories and left the matter there, but the 
Renaissance was seized with the desire to prove. Intellectu- 
ally, Dom Henrique was of the Renaissance though he lived 
and died a generation earlier. When he began to wonder, then 
he must find out 

He gave his life up to this end. He established his abode in 
the far south of Portugal, on the Cape of Sagres, the last point 
of Europe. There, "where two seas, the Mediterranean and 
the Great Ocean, fight together," he set himself to solve tie 
riddle of the universe and so "attain the purpose that he had 
in mind, to discover from the western side the navigation to 
Oriental India." 

Pleasure, political power, even family ties meant nothing to 
the recluse of Sagres, and afl the revenues of the Order of 
Christ, of which he was Grand Master, were devoted to his 
quest. Upon his windswept rock the Infante gathered about 
him a unique court: mathematicians, astronomers, cartogra- 
phers, makers of instruments of precision, builders of ships> 
collected there from far and wide, each contributing his own 
particle of skill or wisdom to the task. Witt the men of theory 
came the men of action all the seamen, pilots and adventur- 

8 



The Wandering Myth 

cms young fidalgos of Portugal, as well as foreign wanderers 
out to see the world and seek their fortune. And mingling 
with the sages and the sailors of the West were more exotic 
types. The Infante by his largesse lured into his orbit pilgrims 
from the Levant who came to visit Occidental shrines Syri- 
ans and Copts and other dwellers on the confines of Christen- 
dom who carried with them echoes of the world beyond. 
From such he gathered news about the Arab trade with the 
Far East, and how their treasure-laden djelbas sailed up to 
Suez bringing the spices of India to Alexandria and Cairo. But 
the strangest tales were brought by captives such as the Moor 
Adahu, who told of inland seas far in the heart of Africa, of 
how salt caravans crossed the Sahara into the Sudan, and how 
hundreds of camels laden with gold went down to the Red 
Sea from Timbuktu. 

Thus surrounded by "men of diverse nationalities," the In- 
fante Dom Henrique spent his days and nights co-ordinating 
all his clues, meditating upon travellers* reports, poring over 
old maps, compiling others, wrestling with mathematics, 
studying the stars, and from all this deducing a new science 
how men might find their path on trackless seas. And continu- 
ally he sent forth ships each year more ships with orders 
to sail farther and farther south until they found the end of 
Africa. 

They sailed cautiously at first for might not any land of 
monster haunt the South Atlantic? and then with reckless 
ease, for after all no bogy put in an appearance, and though 
they sailed into the tropics, the ocean never boiled as those 
supposed to know affirmed it would. They even found out 
with a shock that Ptolemy that oracle of all learned medi- 
sevals "the illustrious Ptolemy, who wrote so well of many 
things,** says one of Dom Henrique's men, *was quite mis- 
taken here!** Ptolemy had declared the tropics to be ^uninhab- 
ited because of the great heat, and we found quite the con- 
trary!" 2 Such was the crumbling up of preconceived ideas. 
Even the demon Cape Bojador turned out to be an overrated 

9 



The Land of Prester John 

terror. It is true that a ship could not sail home against the 
current that ran down the coast, but the answer was to lose all 
sight of land and sweep a circle out to sea. 

The Dark Ocean soon ceased to frighten Henrique's navi- 
gators. They engulfed themselves far from all continents and 
found the lovely islands lost in the Atlantic. They defied one 
by one the capes of Africa Bojador, Branco, Palmas, and 
beyond. They saw the desert shores give way to tropic green, 
they saw all Arab traces fade away and Berber types suc- 
ceeded by the genuine Negro yet the intriguing coast ran 
on and on, apparently for ever. 

Dom Henrique never showed signs of discouragement. He 
colonized Madeira and the Azores; he built fortresses and 
trading factories on the coast of Africa, and sent his caravels 
far out to sea towards the unknown west Whether they 
reached the Antilles forty years in advance of Columbus, or 
Brazil fifty years before Cabral, is a question that historians 
are debating still. It is certain that the Infante sought to pene- 
trate the undiscovered world in all directions, but he never 
lost sight of the East and Prester John. 

Exactly how much he did upon the eastern side is wrapped 
in even deeper mystery than the Atlantic explorations that he 
organized. His messengers must have succeeded in some pen- 
etration overland, if we may judge by Azurzra's enigmatic 
chronicle. "He joined East to West,** says this writer, who died 
in 1474, twenty-four years before the sea route to the East 
had been discovered. And in one of his bursts of rhetoric this 
same chronicler paints a glowing picture of how the inhabit- 
ants of the Nile Valley might now be seen wearing the In- 
fante's armorial device and decked in jewels and finery from 
Portugal. *What brought this about," he cries, apostrophizing 
his hero, "if not the liberality of thy expenditure and the la- 
bours of thy servants moved by thy virtuous intelligence, 
through which were carried to the farthest Orient things fash- 
ioned in the West?" It has been pointed out that Azurzra, in 
common with most of his contemporaries, believed the Niger 

10 



The Wandering Myth 

to be a branch of the Nile. That may be so, but both he and 
they knew East from West and could not possibly describe 
as "fins do Oriente" the west coast of Africa. 

Even more intriguing is a document discovered not long 
ago in the Chancelaria of Af onso V. Here we find mention of a 
certain Jorge, "ambassador of Prester John," who was in Por- 
tugal in 1452. Nothing more is known about this personage. 
No chronicler, contemporary or subsequent, ever refers to 
him, and when, sixty years later, a messenger from Abyssinia 
arrived at Dom Manuel's court, he was welcomed as the first 
ambassador from Prester John. 

Who, then, was Jorge, and what? Was he some Abyssinian 
pilgrim to Rome or Jerusalem that Henrique's agents had way- 
laid and persuaded to visit Portugal? Such an explanation 
seems quite probable, but why then call him an ambassador? 

It was in 1454, two years after this mysterious visit, that we 
find Af onso V bestowing upon the Order of Christ, of which 
Henrique was Grand Master, spiritual jurisdiction over 
Guinea, Nubia, and Ethiopia. 3 

We can speculate as freely as we choose about all this. It is 
a puzzle with too many pieces missing to be reconstructed 
otherwise than by imagination. 

When Dom Henrique died, in 1460, the problems that he 
had set himself were still mostly unsolved. The land of Prester 
John had hardly ceased to be a legend. The dream of a sea 
route to India was not substantiated yet. But in his lifetime 
Dom Henrique had changed the world. His hand had swept 
away for ever the phantoms with which men's imagination 
peopled the Atlantic. A nation had lost all terror of the ocean. 
And the nation that the Infante had trained in seamanship 
was young and strong a people yet unspoiled by luxury, 
who had lived by agriculture and the swordL Their fathers 
had bequeathed to them a great fighting tradition. Few in 
number, they were used to overcoming fearful odds. Sons of 
the vanquishers of both Moors and Castilians, they felt them- 
selves to be invincible. As for the perils of the deep, a sea 

11 



The Land of Prester John 

voyage was no longer a haphazard adventure, but a problem 
to be worked out by the rules of an exact science. Portugal 
thus faced the unknown world and feared it not at all. 

The great quest was carried on. Af onso V, the African, en- 
grossed though he was in the conquest of Morocco, did not 
forget it altogether; and his son, the future Dom Joao II, on 
attaining manhood, brought to bear upon the problem all the 
vigour of his restless intellect. "He was determined," we are 
told, "to pursue the discovery of the Guinea coast that his 
predecessors had begun, for by that coast it seemed to him 
that he would find the land of Prester John of which he heard 
reports, and by that way he might reach India." 4 

So the little ships continued seeking new horizons. In 1471 
Alvaro Esteves had crossed the Equator. In 1484, a stone pillar 
was erected near the Congo River by Diogo Cao. Finally, in 
1486, Bartolomeu Bias struck boldly out to sea and sailed far 
south of the discovered world. For thirteen days his fifty-ton 
caravels ran blindly before wild winds and raging seas, and 
the long-sought cape was turned at last, unknowingly amid 
the shrieking storm. "Cape of Tempests," the sailors called it 
when they saw the giant upon their homeward way. "Call it 
rather Cape of Good Hope!" said Dias, with visions of the 
golden East before his eyes, and so the name remained. But 
they had gleaned no news of Prester John upon those savage 
shores. 

At home in Portugal, meanwhile, the King, Dom Joao II, 
was speeding on the enterprise in another direction. While 
Bartolomeu Dias was seeking Prester John on the east coast of 
Africa, two men had been sent forth from Santatem upon an 
equally stirring adventure. 

Afonso de Paiva and Pero da Covilham were to travel from 
Egypt inland, gathering all the information that they could 
about the trade routes of the East and India. They were to 
reach Ethiopia by some means and bear a letter from their 
King to Prester John. 

12 



The Lost Forerunner 




Dom Joao II of Portugal was no star-gazing mystic. Chasing 
shadows did not in the least appeal to that brisk and Machia- 
vellian monarch. If he sent messengers into the blue, it was 
that he felt fairly certain that they would find substance at 
their journey's end. 

His pioneers had been collecting dues for some time past. 
The men who braved the terrors of the deep would not be 
daunted by the equatorial forest They plunged in and ex- 
plored. Strange black kingdoms were found below those 
steaming shades, all savage realms of Ju-ju worshippers; but 
even from such depths of heathen night were gathered hints 
of something else beyond. 

Twenty moons' journey towards the rising sun, declared the 
woolly-pated men of Benin, there ruled the great King Ogan6. 
The chiefs of Benin regarded this Ogan6 with almost reli- 
gious veneration as a being far above themselves. None of 
them had ever seen him; they sent him their ambassadors 
when they acceded to the throne, and that was all. Nor did 
even the ambassadors see Ogan6, for curtains always veiled 
the august one from profane gaze. All that the envoys of 
Benin ever saw of him was just one foot, protruded once only 
for them to feast their eyes upon before they left On this same 
happy occasion Ogan6 would present his visitors with a shin- 
is 



The Land of Prester John 

ing brass helmet for their King, and a brazen cross for him 
to hang about his neck. Without these insignia no king of 
Benin could reign lawfully. 

The ambassador also would receive his gift before he wan- 
dered back across the heart of Africa. He took away with 
him a little cross, a small model of that sent to his master. The 
proud possessor of this trophy was endowed with special privi- 
leges when he reached home. 

Twenty moons* journey to the east that meant 250 
leagues, more or less; the Portuguese calculated from what 
they knew of the native rate of progress in the bush. Dom 
Joao called for his experts and his maps, and they studied the 
matter. The land of Ogan lay to the south of Egypt, it would 
seem, and surely Ogane was Prester John! 

Dom Joao resolved to conjure this mysterious and inacces- 
sible greatness from its splendid isolation and draw it into 
touch with his own little kingdom of the West. Prester John 
would help him find the way to India, he felt sure. Mean- 
while, to break the silence of the ages and communicate across 
the intervening unknown space seemed almost like sending 
messages to Mars. 

Dom Joao left no stone unturned. Countless black prison- 
ers were let loose down the west coast of Africa. All had been 
treated well. All were laden with gifts and richly clad. They 
should have glowing tales to carry to their inland homes about 
the marvellous realm beyond the sea, the birdlike ships which 
sailed so far, and the greatness of the King who owned them. 
Some echoes of all this might cross the wilderness to Prester 
John. 

Dom Joao also tried more direct means. His first attempt 
was unsuccessful. Two monks, who felt their zeal enough to 
compensate for all deficiencies, plunged boldly into the 
breach. But the good men had underestimated the difficulty 
of travel in the Middle East without a word of Arabic to help 
them. They got no farther than Jerusalem, whence they turned 
back discouraged. 

14 



The Lost Forerunner 

Dom Joao was not the man to repeat a mistake. He selected 
a new pair of messengers practical laymen this time, with 
an easy flow of Arabic at their command. 

Pero da Covilham, a linguist with an adventurous soul, al- 
ready had behind him a chequered career. He had served the 
Duke of Medina Sidonia in Castile as a youth, but when war 
broke out with his native land, he went home. He accompa- 
nied King Afonso V to France on his famous visit to Louis 
XI; he became successively guardsman to Dom Joao II, a spy 
across the border in Castile, and ambassador to Morocco. He 
negotiated treaties with the King of Tlemcen, arranged for 
the return from Fez of the bones of the martyred Infante Dom 
Fernando, and purchased horses for the future King Dom 
Manuel, then Duke of Beja. In all these things he had served 
faithfully, Dom Joao suavely said, and he was lucky also. 
Now he must undertake a great thing for the crown. Let him, 
with Afonso de Paiva for companion, travel east to find the 
realm of Prester John! Dom Joao would give him a letter to 
that enigmatic personage, who would doubtless be able to in- 
form them from which of the Indian ports the spices came 
that reached Venice via Alexandria and Cairo. 

Pero da Covilham and Afonso de Paiva bowed before the 
royal commands. The King handed them a planisphere on 
which to mark the land of Prester John, when its site should 
be discovered. He also gave them 400 cruzados, partly cash 
and partly letter of credit on the Medicis* bank, for travelling 
expenses, and his blessing. So equipped, on May 7, 1487 the 
dauntless pair started from Santarem. 

Only the bare outlines of their adventures are recorded- 
From Barcelona they embarked for Naples, where they 
cashed their cheque before proceeding to Rhodes. Two com- 
patriots, Knights of St. John, welcomed the travellers into 
their house, and there they stayed awhile. Bidding farewell 
to these kind hosts, the companions turned their backs upon 
the friendly island of the Hospitallers the last of their fa- 
miliar world that either would ever see and, disguised as 

15 



The Land of Prester John 

merchants with honey to sell, they crossed to Alexandria. Both 
nearly died of fever there, but as soon as they were better 
they pushed on to Cairo. Adopting Moslem garb, they joined 
some Moors from Maghreb, whom they accompanied to Aden. 

Beside the arid VMS upon the desert edge the two friends 
said good-bye. Pero da Covilham embarked upon an Arab 
dhow sailing for India. He was following the spices to their 
f ountainhead while Af onso de Paiva crossed the strait to jour- 
ney to Ethiopia and to Prester John. At a later date agreed 
upon by both, they were to meet at Cairo. 

So each man went his lonely way. Afonso de Paiva's wan- 
derings never will be known. Whether he reached Ethiopia 
after all and what befell him, there are no records to tell. We 
only hear that he got back to Cairo first and there he died 
alone. 

Pero da Covilham meanwhile visited the countries where 
the spices grew. He disembarked at Cannanore, the port for 
ginger. He saw, moreover, Calicut strange gorgeous city 
of thatched houses and half-naked men, of coco palms beside 
the beach, of gold and jewels and elephants and pepper. Es- 
pecially pepper! Pepper may not mean much to us, but in 
that age it ranked with precious stones. Men risked the perils 
of the deep and fought and died for pepper. We find that hard 
to understand, perhaps, for the romance of pepper has now 
faded from the earth. 

Tearing himself from the dazzling spectacle of Calicut, 
Pero da Covilham went on to the lordly town of Goa, where 
the Moslem dynasty of Bijapur held sway. Thence he em- 
barked for Sof ala and Madagascar the Arabs called it Island 
of the Moon. To complete his tour of Indian Ocean ports, he 
took ship to Ormuz, the richest city all around those coasts. 
Having admired the splendours there, the wanderer returned 
to Aden. He kept his tryst at Cairo in due course, but found 
he was too late. There was nothing left but to go home. 

At this juncture two Jews appeared upon the scene. Rabbi 
Abraham from Beja, and Joseph, a shoemaker of Lamego, 

16 



The Lost Forerunner 

were inquiring secretly for him. Rabbi Abraham had letters 
from the King, and Joseph of Lamego was to take the answer 
back, 

Pero da Covilham studied the instructions of his lord and 
master. If he had been to all the places indicated and collected 
all the information that the King required, the monarch said 
benignly that he might return. If, however, he had not yet 
found Prester John, men let him spare no effort till that was 
achieved. No difficulty ought to dismay him, added Dom 
Joao, in that tone of encouragement so easy to assume when 
spurring on another. 

This was not all. Rabbi Abraham, a travelled man, had 
heard about the glories of Ormuz, and informed Dom Joao, 
who wanted to know more. Before proceeding to Abyssinia, 
Pero da Covilham would therefore escort the rabbi to Qnnuz 
and send him back to report to the King. 

Pero da Covilham, as it happened, wanted to go home. He 
was tired of wandering in outlandish parts. The heather and 
pines of Portugal, the cool slopes of his native Serra da Estrels, 
seemed infinitely more alluring than the scorched rocks of 
Aden or the blazing Persian Gulf. Besides, he had a wife 
by now it might be that he had a child at Covilham, 

But orders were orders. If Portuguese kings asked a great 
deal of their subjects, it must be said that they met with a 
magnificent response. Pero da Covilham turned his face from 
the home he never was to see again and travelled to Aden 
and Ormuz. He left his Hebrew companion there with letters 
for the King. Rabbi Abraham would join a caravan and return 
via Aleppo. Pero da Covilham, meanwhile, sailed back to the 
Red Sea. 

He visited Jidda while he was about it, and Mecca and 
Medina, thence to Tor and after down to Zeila, where he 
plunged inland and up the mountains. And so at last, in 1494, 
he reached the court of Prester John. 

Alexander, Lion of Judah, King of Kings, received the for- 
eigner with open arms. He was flattered to have been sought 

17 



The Land of Prester John 

out by a brother Christian monarch far away. Pero da Covil- 
ham's difficult mission was at last accomplished. Soon he 
might travel triumphantly home. 

But while he waited for his dispatch the Emperor Alexan- 
der died. His brother Naod, who succeeded to the throne, 
was veiy pleasant to the stranger, but ignored Dom Joao's 
messages. Pero da Covilham then craved for leave to go, but 
the monarch refused. It was not the custom of his country, 
he declared, to let a foreigner depart. Pero da Covilham thus 
found himself marooned. 

He was not badly treated. They gave him an Abyssinian 
bride and broad acres of land. One writer * says they even 
held out hopes that he might have leave to go if he produced 
and left behind a son! 

Pero da Covilham hastened to oblige, but still he was de- 
tained. Dom Joao must be dead, said they, so why return? 
Let him remain in the employment of his lands and rear his 
half-caste family. 

Pero da Covilham accepted his fate. He gave up hope of 
seeing Portugal again, or the wife that he had left at Covil- 
ham. He learned to speak and write the language like a native, 
and lived like an Abyssinian nobleman on his estate. 

He seems to have been influential in the land and always 
very well received at court. The Dowager Queen Helena es- 
pecially enjoyed his conversation. She liked to hear accounts 
of Portugal. Also, one gathers that his artistic taste was appre- 
ciated by the lady, for when she built a church, Pero da 
Covilham, at her request, designed the altar. 

She might have had more competent advice. The Portu- 
guese traveller, it appears, was not the only European at that 
time immured in Abyssinia. A Venetian painter, Nicola Bianca 
Leone, was also there. How or why or whence he came, no- 
body knows. He must have lived in Abyssinia over fifty years. 
One who met Trim in his advanced old age describes Tifrn pa- 
tronizingly as "a very worthy person and great lord, although 
a painter"! 2 It was in his professional capacity that he once 

18 



The Lost 'Forerunner 

had scandalized the Abyssinians when decorating a church 
for Alexander's father. He depicted the Virgin with the Holy 
Child on her left arm! This struck the natives as almost sacri- 
legious, but the Negus evidently liked the picture, for it 
stayed. 

We are not told if the two stranded Europeans found con- 
solation in each other's company; neither do we know any- 
thing about the meeting which, presumably, took place in 
1508 between Pero da Covilham and two compatriots of 
whom we shall hear later. Certainly all such voices from the 
world that he had lost were few and rare, and when, in 1521, 
Dom Rodrigo de Lima's embassy reached Abyssinia, the exile 
wept with joy to see his fellow countrymen. He was particu- 
larly glad of the opportunity to confess himself to the chap- 
lain who accompanied the delegates. For over thirty years, 
he told Father Francisco Alvares, he had remained unshriven. 
The reason was that the secrecy of the confessional was ill ob- 
served in Abyssinia, and Pero da Covilham, a cautious soul, 
would take no risks. He simply went to church, said he, and 
told his sins to God. 3 

Dom Rodrigo would have taken him back home with them, 
but the exile refused. It was too late, he said; "I am too old!" 
But he expressed the wish to send one of his many sons to 
Portugal to see the King. This young man, aged twenty-three, 
"the colour of a russet pear," would claim the reward that 
should have been his father's due. Also, the latter was not 
sure, perhaps he had another son at Covflham. If that should 
be so, the half-caste youth would bear with him twenty ounces 
of gold to give to his white brother. 4 If such a person did in- 
deed exist, we cannot tell, nor what had been the fate of the 
young wife left waiting so many years for a husband who 
never returned. We only know that the brown boy died be- 
fore he reached the shores of the Red Sea, and the gold that 
he carried was sent back inland to his f ather. Thus the gulf 
that deft a life in two was never bridged. 

Pero da Covilham died in Abyssinia. 

19 




The Odyssey of Matthew 





The years that Pero da Covilham remained lost in the Abys- 
sinian mountains had been eventful in the outer world. In 
1497 Vasco da Gama had sailed round the Cape to Calicut, 
and the gateway of the East at last stood open wide. The 
Portuguese built fortresses in India and East Africa and took 
possession of the TmrJigm Ocean. Only faint echoes of all this 
penetrated the inland fastnesses of Abyssinia. 

But Portugal had not forgotten Prester John. Messengers 
might die, and messengers might disappear, but Portugal 
was bent on getting into touch with Prester John, and the 
Portuguese are a tenacious race. In 1506 a third attempt was 
made. Joao Gomes and Joao Sanches, with Sid Mohammed, 
a Tunisian Moor, to be their guide, sailed with Tristao da 
Cunha's fleet and were landed at Malindi in due course. 
Thence, it would seem, they failed to make progress, Because 
around Malindi the Kaffirs of the bush are very wild and 
fierce, so they decided that it would be better to strike inland 
from somewhere nearer to the Straits/* Thus it was that, in 
March 1508, a certain Francisco de Tavora, captain of a unit 
of the Indian Ocean fleet, found them still waiting at Malindi 
and took them off with him to his commander. 

The great Af onso de Albuquerque, at that time chief cap- 

20 



The Odyssey of Matthew 

tain of the fleet off the Arabian coast, was cruising in the 
neighbourhood of Guardafui. Having himself been present 
when Joao Gomes had disembarked in Africa more than a 
year before, he was amazed to see the party- reappear. Since 
they had not travelled via Malindi, he inquired of Sid Mo- 
hammed, what route they did propose. The Moor said that 
it would be best to strike inland from Berbera or Zeila and 
then return to Portugal via Timbuktu. 

Albuquerque gave them letters for Prester John in Arabic 
and Portuguese and fifty seraphims for their travelling ex- 
penses; more than that the canny Moor refused to take 
money, he said, was the worst enemy a wayfarer could have. 
Nor, apparently, did he think much of Joao Gomes as a travel- 
ling companion. The man was an unceasing chatterbox! Sid 
Mohammed feared that he might get the party into trouble 
if he could not hold his tongue. 1 

All three were put ashore on the Somali coast near Guarda- 
fui, all posing as Moslem merchants whom the Portuguese 
had robbed, and so they walked away into the blue and off 
the map. Thenceforward they are no more than wandering 
names seen here by some, reported to be there by others, 
but they never come into the light again. In 1510 Joao Gomes 
seems to have been met by two Castilian Jews at Suakin. 2 The 
Moor was with him still, but Joao Sanches was dead. The sur- 
viving pair were setting off tor Cairo when a quarrel parted 
them. Sid Mohammed vanished into the desert, and Joao 
Gomes sailed for Jidda alone. The Jews said that his inten- 
tions were to make for Alexandria and Venice. That is the 
last we ever hear of him. 

It is certain, however, that he had reached Abyssinia. More 
than that, we know he was received at court. The Emperor 
at that date was under twelve years old, the kingdom being 
governed by his step-grandmother, Queen Helena, a devout 
and very learned lady who composed works of theology in her 
spare time. The Regent was interested in the Portuguese, and 
so she caused to be drawn up this edifying letter: 

21 



The Land of Prester John 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Three 
Persons, and One God, grace and blessing rest upon our beloved 
brother King Manuel, Rider of the seas, Subjugator and Oppressor 
of infidels and Moslem unbelievers may the Lord Christ prosper 
you and give you victory over your foes. May He enlarge and ex- 
tend your dominions through tne intercession of those messengers 
of Christ, the four evangelists, John, Luke, Mark, Matthew, may 
their sanctity and prayers preserve you! 

We would inform our beloved brother how two messengers ar- 
rived here from your great and lofty house. One was named Joao, 
who said he was a priest, and the other Joao Gomes. They said: 
we require provisions and men. We are therefore sending Matthew, 
our ambassador, with orders to reach one of your Indian ports and 
tell you that we can supply you with mountains of provisions, and 
men like unto the sands of the sea! 

We have news that the Lord of Cairo is building ships to fight 
your fleet, and we shall give you so many men ... as to wipe the 
Moors from the face of the earth! We by land, and you, brothers, 
on the sea! 

The lady further on bursts into prophecy: 

Now is the moment come [she cries] for the fulfilment of the 
promise made by Christ and Holy Mary, His Mother, that in the 
last time there would arise a king among the Franks who would 
make an end of all the Moors! 

Everything that Matthew, our ambassador, may tell you, be- 
lieve as from ourselves, for he is the best man that we have, and 
if we had another who knew or understood more than he we should 
have sent him. We would have entrusted our message to those of 
your subjects who came here, but we feared that they might not 
represent our case as we desire. 

With this ambassador, Matthew, we are sending a cross made of 
the wood of that on which Our Lord was crucified. It was brought 
me from Jerusalem, and I had two crosses made out of it, one for 
us, and the other one for you. The said wood is black and has a little 
silver ring attached to it We could have sent you much gold, but 
we feared that the Moors might steal it on the way. 

If you are willing, we should be very glad to have your daugh- 

22 



The Odyssey of Matthew 

ters in marriage for our sons, or better still if you would marry 
your sons to our daughters. With which no more, save that salva- 
tion and grace of Our Redeemer Christ and Our Lady the Holy 
Virgin rest on your estate, upon your sons and daughters, and on 
all your house! Amen. We moreover add that were we to muster 
all our people we could fill the world, but we have no power on the 
sea. May Christ Jesus help you, for certainly the things that you 
have done in India are miraculous! * 

This affectionate and pious letter was written in both Arabic 
and Persian. It has been surmised that Pero da Covilham as- 
sisted in its composition; but if that were so, surely he would 
have appended a Portuguese translation, and no such thing 
accompanied the letter. Such as it was, the document was 
signed and sealed, and delivered to the Matthew aforesaid. 

This man's identity would seem a little vague. An Armenian, 
says one contemporary; a Christian merchant resident in 
Cairo, says another; a recently converted Moslem, affirms a 
third; the brother of the Coptic Patriarch of Cairo and mar- 
ried to a kinswoman of Prester John, apparently declared 
Matthew himself/ All these statements may be true most 
of them are not incompatible. What we know for certain is 
that the man was white, of distinguished, appearance, and 
middle-aged. There was a boy travelling with him his 
brother-in-law, Matthew explained, and also an ambassador, 
though too young to take a personal share in any negotia- 
tions. The lad's function in Matthew's train was therefore 
purely ornamental. 

Both arrayed themselves as Moslem merchants, the pre- 
cious cross was inconspicuously wrapped up in an old rag, 
and they set out for Zeila. Orders were to sail from there to 
India and ask the Portuguese Governor fear a passage with 
the homebound fleet 

It certainly was uphill work for Portugal and Abyssinia to 
communicate. If the voyages of Pero da Covilham and Joao 
Gomes had been adventurous, that of Matthew in the other 
direction was just as bad. It may have been even more diffi- 

23 



The Land of Prester John 

cult, for while the Portuguese had travelled unencumbered, 
Matthew had brought with him at least one wife. 

Accompanied by this lady and her maid, or understudy 
contemporary opinion seems uncertain which was which, or 
what the ambassadors arrived at Zeila, where they were 
robbed and imprisoned before they could proceed. 5 Manag- 
ing to get away from Zeila at last, they took ship to Dabul 
from the frying-pan, as it turned out, into the fire. 

Dabul was a port belonging to the Moslem kings of Bijapur, 
and commanded by a captain of the famous Ismail Adil Khan. 
Devout follower of Islam though Matthew seemed to be, 
something went wrong. His mission was discovered or sus- 
pected, and Matthew found himself in prison once again, 
while the captain took possession of his goods. The latter sent 
word to his master, Ismail Adil Khan: exactly what was he to 
do with Matthew? The crown of Bijapur had recently lost Goa 
to the Portuguese and did not wish to see the enemy strength- 
ened by any new alliance. 

Happily for Matthew, Goa was near Dabul, and it hap- 
pened that Af onso de Albuquerque, then Governor of India, 
was at the moment there. He had just inflicted a smashing de- 
feat upon another one of Ismail's officers. The Governor heard 
about Matthew and sent a message to Dabul: This man had 
come to speak to him and was on no account to be detained. 
If Matthew were not released immediately, then Albuquerque 
would be obliged to do that which he would rather not 

The captain of Dabul did not inquire what "that" might be, 
though certainly he was between the devil and the deep sea. 
He had not yet had his reply from Ismail Adil Elan, but he 
dared not argue with the conqueror of Goa and Malacca. He 
preferred to set Matthew at liberty, returning all the stolen 
goods, "without a bodkin missing"! An unfortunate mistake, 
the captain suavely explained; had it occurred to him that 
Albuquerque might want to see this man, he would have 
speeded him to Goa. He proceeded so to do, for which com- 
pliance his own angry lord nearly cut off his head 

24 



The Odyssey of Matthew 

Agreeably aware that Ismail Adil Khan was foaming at 
the mouth, Albuquerque welcomed Matthew ostentatiously. 
The messenger from Prester John could not have arrived at 
a more significant moment. 

It was December of 1512, just over six years since Afonso 
de Albuquerque had flashed into the Orient and set himself 
immediately to laying the foundations of an empire. During 
those six years, first as commander of the fleet off the Arabian 
coast, and then as Governor of India, he had established 
Portuguese supremacy from Ormuz to Malacca. Already Per- 
sia courted him, Calicut was fawning at his side, the Turkish 
lords of the Deccan were lashed to heel, and the Moslem 
kingdom of Cambay was apprehensively polite. There was no 
longer any power in India that would care to challenge him, 
and he had just returned from conquering Malacca and bring- 
ing the chief kingdoms of the archipelago under Portuguese 
sway. All this was the progressive working out of a tremendous 
plan. Uniting the fervour of an imperialist to that of a 
crusader, Albuquerque dreamed of an empire for his country 
vaster than the worlds conquered by Alexander that would 
bring about the triumph of the Cross over the Crescent once 
for all. 

Afonso de Albuquerque, whose birth nearly coincides with 
the death of the Infante Dom Henrique, is another instance of 
a man whose whole soul is bound up in an idea to the exclusion 
of all human aspirations after private happiness or physical 
repose. Of the two, the case of Albuquerque is perhaps the 
more remarkable because, even more versatile and many- 
sided than was the Infante in his gifts, and more complex 
in character, he equals him in singleness of aim. To Albu- 
querque his work was life apart from it he seemed to wish 
for nothing. If he desired honours, it was only to give him 
more authority in Asia; he only wanted wealth that he might 
meet public expense out of his own coffers when funds failed 
to arrive from home; and the chief reward that he hoped for 
his services was to be permitted to die at his post 

25 



The Land of Prcster John 

He knew quite well that he might not live long enough to 
fulfil his program, and until that was accomplished he could 
have no rest. As Governor, he worked both day and night, 
bringing to his task a tenacity that few men have equalled, a 
military genius that made the hardest conquest seem a simple 
thing, and a capacity for ruling native races that never failed 
to win the conquered peopled hearts. Albuquerque was, 
moreover, one of those few men who combine with a vision 
that sees far into the future a practical realism that takes in 
little things of every day. We find him dwelling upon grandi- 
ose schemes such as that of uniting with the Shiah Shah of 
Persia to destroy Sunnite Islam and so to reconquer Jerusa- 
lem, and giving his attention to homely details such as the 
packing of cargo for ships, or the distribution of rice rations 
to poor children of the schools founded by himself for little 
natives. No design was too magnificent for his imperial edi- 
fice, but the smallest stone to be fitted into its structure was 
worth thought and cafre. 

With all this, no empire-builder ever had scantier material 
resources at his command. King Manuel of Portugal had large 
ambitions: he sent elaborate and exacting orders to his cap- 
tains overseas, but when it came to furnishing the necessary 
supplies, he seems to have expected the Lord to provide! 
Shortage of men, of ships or armaments and money was the 
problem that faced Albuquerque at every turn of his career. 
In 1507 he had sailed to conquer Ormuz with six ships and 
400 men, equipped, as he himself describes, with "weapons 
few and rotten, the stock of sail-cloth, cables, and ropes de- 
pleted, wet gunpowder, few bombardiers, one or two carpen- 
ters and coopers, lances all rotten, crossbows without any ar- 
rows, and a hundred and fifty men sick unto death ... we 
may have had food and water for eight days/* 

With such a fleet he conquered Kalyat, Kurhat, Muscat, 
and Sohar on the Oman coast, and finally Ormuz, queen city 
of the Persian Gulf. 

As Governor of India he was scarcely better supplied. "I 



The Odyssey of Matthew 

entreat Your Highness, send me arms,** we find him writing In 
October 1510. "Many lances, many pikes ... I have never 
seen a more pitiful sight than these fortresses there is not a 
lance to be found in them!" 

He conquered Goa a few weeks later, none the less, with 
1,680 men against 10,000 to 12,000 well-armed Turks who 
held the town for Ismail Adil Khan. 

Eight months after this, Albuquerque seized Malacca, with 
1,000 against 20,000 men, and the rotten old ship in which he 
sailed to do the deed broke in two and sank beneath him on 
the return voyage. He arrived in India with two leaky ships 
and a handful of men, but even so his name was quite suffi- 
cient to dismay the troops sent by Adil Khan to besiege Goa 
in the conqueror's absence. Albuquerque, with the reinforce- 
ments that arrived from Portugal that year, ejected the Mos- 
lems from their stronghold at Benastarim by one of those au- 
dacious military manoeuvres in which he excelled. Ismail saw 
his last hope of recovering Goa fade away and sent his mes- 
sengers to ask for peace. 

Albuquerque was satisfied with the way that his plans were 
working out. He held the chief strategic points along the In- 
dian coast, and he had fortified Malacca at the gate of the 
Far East. Portugal commanded all the trade routes of the 
Orient except that of the Red Sea. Itis corner of the map was 
the weak point and danger spot of Portuguese dominion. 

During the past twelve years the Portuguese had come to 
view the Indian Ocean as their private lake. Their ships pa- 
trolled its waves in every direction, challenging any native 
craft that dared to navigate without the Governor's permit. 
But the Red Sea was an enigma still. No European fleet had 
ever sailed into the Arabs' "Enclosed Sea," where "ships of 
Mecca" bolted into safety. Between the desert shores beyond 
Bab-el-Mandeb the Crescent reigned supreme, and the Sol- 
dan of Egypt was still the chief hope of his co-religionists. 
The Portuguese had once destroyed his fleet, but it was ex- 
pected that he would launch another. "The Lord of Cairo is 

27 



The Land of Prester John 

building ships to fight yours/* wrote Queen Helena to Dom 
Manuel. The rumour had reached India before Matthew 
came, and Suez was said to be the Soldan's naval base. The 
only menace to Portuguese sea power was Egypt, and Egypt 
might at any moment be incorporated in the still more dan- 
gerous rising empire of the Turk. If Portugal could once ob- 
tain control of the Red Sea, then the spice trade would be 
entirely in her hands, and all the forces of Islam smitten to 
death. 

"I must enter the Straits this year," wrote Albuquerque to 
his King, and after defeating the troops of Adil Khan he pre- 
pared to do so. Matthew's arrival at this moment from those 
very shores with offers of an Abyssinian alliance was strangely 
opportune. "If Your Highness could but see," the Governor 
wrote jubilantly, "what is going on in India since it became 
known that this was an ambassador from Prester John, it 
would seem to you as the portent of some great change, so dis- 
mayed are the people of India. May it please Our Lord that 
this should be the beginning of the ruin of the house of 
Mecca/* 

Matthew's welcome at Goa was accordingly elaborate. 

We received the ambassador with a procession [writes Albu- 
querque], and went with him to church. There, a sermon was de- 
livered by a preaching friar who showed us the True Cross and 
held it out for us to kiss, and we touched many jewels with it. After- 
wards I accompanied the ambassador to his lodging, where I or- 
dered that he should he well provided for and served. I gave him 
two slave girls, his countrywomen, for his service and "that of his 
wife, and I also gave him two boys from his country who could 
speak our language. 

Between the tribulations of the past and those that lay 
before him, Matthew's brief stay at Goa must have been a 
pleasant interlude. He fared sumptuously in the best rooms of 
the palace at Goa, waited upon like a great lord. Presents 
were daily showered upon him and his at some inconven- 

28 



The Odyssey of Matthew 

ience, we imagine, to his hosts. Articles appropriate for com- 
plimentary gifts were lacking from Portuguese government 
stores, to judge by documents that inform us how such objects 
were collected when occasion arose. Any person possessing 
something of value might be called upon to hand it over, 
subject to payment at a future date, sooner or later according 
to the uncertain ebb and flow of the exchequer. 

From records of the settlements of such accounts we learn 
how, among other things, Matthew was given two gold rings 
set with rubies, relinquished by one of those Jews who had 
reported the passage of Joao Gomes at Sualcin; an unknown 
Joao Mendes provided a piece of brocade; and a length of 
damask cloth, two pouches of musk, and a silken girdle were 
contributed by one Gomes Teixeira. A velvet tunic went to 
swell Matthew's wardrobe from that of Bastiam Rodrigues, 
and a similar brocaded garment from Joao Machado. A "Por- 
tuguese mattress, large and good," 6 was taken from another 
person to soften the ambassadorial slumber, and public 
funds being, as usual, low the Governor advanced 177 cru- 
zados of his own to buy the honoured guest further unspecified 
requirements. Some gold pieces were also pressed upon Mat- 
thew, but **as there were not many of them,** writes Albu- 
querque in a letter to the King, "I made out that I was merely 
sending him a few samples of the coinage of Your Highness.'* T 

Thus enriched and gratified, Matthew sailed for Cannanore 
together with a letter from the Governor ordering the ambas- 
sador to be embarked for Portugal with every honour. 

"Ambassador indeed!" sniffed Jorge de Melo, captain of 
Cannanore, and eyed the unfortunate Matthew askance. It 
did not really concern Jorge de Melo whether this was an 
ambassador or not; the matter with him was that he had had 
a difference of opinion with the Governor and wanted to get 
his own back in some way. 

As Matthew's fll luck would have it, Jorge de Melo was not 
the only man at Cannanore just then who happened to be in 
that frame of mind. Francisco Pereira Pestana had not seea 

29 



The Land of Prester John 

eye to eye with his chief regarding the amount of pay that 
was his due, and felt besides that his own prowess on the bat- 
tlefield was insufficiently admired. He was now about to sail 
for Portugal in a very bad temper, and he and Jorge de Melo 
shook their heads in unison. 

Stirring the soup of their resentment was a third party, by 
the name of Caspar Pereira. Besides being a professional in- 
triguer, Caspar Pereira also considered himself to be an in- 
jured person. The Governor had proposed taking him to the 
Red Sea, and Caspar Pereira did not wish to go. He an- 
nounced that he was far too ill for such adventures and so 
lingered at Cannanore with someone else's wife, engaged in 
his favourite pastime of raising hornets* nests. 

Poor Matthew was made into Albuquerque's scapegoat by 
these three. They seized upon the wretched Armenian's repu- 
tation and tore it to shreds. This man, said they, was never sent 
by Prester John. An Abyssinian should be black, as everybody 
knew, and Matthew was quite white. He was nothing but a 
Moslem spy in the service of Egypt; his morals were unspeak- 
able; his credentials were forged. If Afonso de Albuquerque 
had not been so puffed up with pride he would have seen 
through the imposition. He had simply let himself be diddled 
by this manl Such tales were spread till Cannanore bubbled 
with righteous indignation, and the Moslem traders of that 
port were only too happy to fan the fire. 

The women of Matthew's establishment were also brought 
into the intrigue. It seems certain that he was not an ideal 
husband, and between him and his wife ( or wives ) there was 
little love. If she would testify against him, one of them was 
told, the Governor would send Matthew to the stake and have 
her married to a Portuguese. This dazzling prospect drew the 
lady, for the conquering strangers enjoyed a huge success 
among the fair ones of the Orient. Wife and slaves joined in 
the conspiracy against their lord. 

It was Matthew himself, however, who put the fat into the 
fire by threatening to beat one of his women one fine day. She 

80 



The Odyssey of Matthew 

promptly retaliated by screaming out for all to hear that this 
man really was a spy and every evil thing that had been said 

Jorge de Melo and his friends rushed to the spot. They 
drew up documents and signed indictments. The truth was 
out at last, they cried. The villain was unmasked! 

"Our Lord has been pleased to awaken the understanding 
of Jorge de Melo and his friends that they might know the 
truth about this dog . . " piously exclaims one who signs 
himself Joao Afonso de Azevedo 8 in a letter to the King. But 
no message was dispatched to Goa to enlighten the deluded 
understanding of the Governor. 

Was he indeed deluded? some people hinted darkly. He 
knew about it all the time! asserts Caspar Pereira, who also 
hastened to write home this spicy bit of news. The Governor 
had hushed up the swindle to gain credit for himself. It 
seemed a great thing to send the King an ambassador from 
the long-sought and elusive Prester John. "He says that for 
this service done Your Highness will make him a count** 

No attempt was therefore made to shatter Albuquerque's 
alleged illusions before he sailed for the Red Sea, nor did they 
dare to disobey the orders he had sent to Cannanore concern- 
ing the ambassador. "Xet the chastisement of his villainy rest 
with Your Highness," Matthew's accusers enjoined the King, 
and then embarked the criminal after the manner that the 
Governor commanded 

A document informs us how fifty planks and three hundred 
rtflflg were supplied to make a store-cupboard and chicken- 
coop adjoining Matthew's cabin, and that four kitchen basins 
were provided him as well as a hatchet, a spit for roasting, 
and two loaves of soap.* THe was given a big cabin," writes 
Albuquerque's secretary, Caspar Correa, 10 "in which he and 
his women and servants were well accommodated/* This was 
on board the ship commanded by Bemaldim Freire, a feather- 
pated youth who swallowed every tale that he was told about 
his passenger. 

Poor Matthew had an awful voyage to Portugal. Bemaldim 

SI 



The Land of Prester John 

Freire, assisted by Francisco Pereira, made a nightmare of 
his life. They cast him into irons at MoQambique. They boxed 
his ears and plucked his beard, abused him as a Turkish spy 
who had deceived that fool Afonso de Albuquerque, and 
finally appropriated to themselves his wife and slaves. 11 

If , as all contemporaries affirm, it was merely to spite the 
Governor that his enemies behaved like this, it was an extraor- 
dinarily stupid intrigue. For the fact remained that Matthew 
really had been sent by Queen Helena and carried with him 
genuine letters. In Portugal, when he presented his creden- 
tials to the King, their authenticity was recognized at once. 

Dom Manuel was overjoyed. Prester John at lastl The King 
"received the cross upon his knees, with tears in his eyes, 
thanking God for bestowing such a gift upon him as weU as 
letters and ambassadors from so great a long as that of Abys- 
sinia, so remote and far distant from Europe. . . ." 12 Mat- 
thew was welcomed as a heaven-sent messenger. Dom Manuel 
wrote at once to Rome about his glad arrival, and the despised 
Armenian now became the hero of an ecstatic correspondence 
between the Holy Father and the King. 

We can imagine how awkward all this was for Bernaldim 
Freire and Francisco Pereira. Some say that they escaped to 
Castile, others that the King imprisoned them in Lisbon 
castle. It is certain that Albuquerque's enemies had over- 
reached themselves for once. 

He himself, meanwhile, knew nothing of what had occurred 
at Cannanore. No one told him until five months later when 
on the island of Kamaran in the Red Sea. "I was," he wrote 
the King, "the most astonished man on earth." Why should 
doubt be thrown upon the veracity of Matthew's mission? 
Certainly not because he had travelled in Moslem disguise. 
Had not Joao Gomes done the same, and his companions? 
There was no other way of entering or leaving Abyssinia. "If 
they wish to go out through Zeila, Zeila belongs to Moors. If 
they wish to pass by Dahlak, Dahlak is Moorish, and if they 

82 



The Odyssey of Matthew 

want to leave by the island of Sualan, SuaMn is also of the 
Moors. . . ." 

That Prester John should desire to communicate with 
Portugal was nothing strange. An alliance would be to their 
mutual interest. Albuquerque admits that he did not overhaul 
the envoy's papers to ascertain their authenticity, but then: 
"It is not for me to cross-examine ambassadors from kings 
and princes of these parts when they are on their way to you, 
nor to open their letters and instructions without a special 
warrant, signed and sealed by you, authorizing me to do so." 

As for the suggestion that the man might be a spy from 
Cairo why on earth should the Soldan seek information in 
such a devious and complicated manner? "I have men from 
Cairo constantly about me, and every day they come with 
merchandise from overland." And if it was Lisbon that the 
enemy desired to spy upon: "Are there not in Portugal scores 
of Venetians, Italians, Florentines, Genoese, and men of other 
nationalities who have continual dealings with Alexandria 
and Cairo?" 

When, however, on his return to India, Albuquerque in- 
quired into the origin of all the trouble, he ceased to wonder 
much. "The Lord knows that all this disorder was worked up 
in the belief that they were hitting me direct." He was used 
to such tricks from Caspar Pereira, and: "I am not surprised at 
Francisco Pereira doing what he did, for he bears me a grudge 
. . . besides which, Senhor, he is a very trying man." As for 
Francisco's travelling companion: *1 am not surprised at Ber- 
naldim Freire, for he is young, and anybody can lead him 
astray." 

It was a relief to learn that the ambassador had been re- 
ceived with honour by the King. Albuquerque was much pre- 
occupied with Prester John since his return from the Red Sea. 
That voyage had not been wholly a success. Aden had not 
been captured in the one assault attempted as the fleet passed 
by. Shortage of water on the ships had left no time to repeat 

33 



The Land of Prestcr John 

the attack, and lack of wind had made it quite impossible to 
reach Suez. But Albuquerque had not wasted a minute of the 
three months and a half that he had spent in the Red Sea. He 
had made careful observations, he had acquired much useful 
information, and the appearance of the Portuguese in those 
waters had shaken the Moslem world with fear. Albuquerque 
intended that their terror should be justified in the near fu- 
ture. He had his plan of campaign ready, which he expounded 
to the King. 
Prester John was an important figure in the scheme. 



34 




A Dream in the Desert 




1 he dreary island of Kamaran, **all flat and almost level with 
the sea," twisted its stunted mangroves within sight of the 
Arabian coast. The steaming swamps were lost in hot dry 
sand drifting beside abandoned mosques and large stone 
buildings that were stately once, erected, it was said, by mer- 
chants who in days gone by had traded with the land or" Pres- 
ter John for gold. No one knew when or how or why the town 
had died; but as a commercial centre Kamaran had ceased to 
be, and its halls were deserted. In the shadow of the noble 
ruins a few Arabs built their shacks, for there was water on 
the island still, and tufts of grass. The dwellers on the desert 
mainland brought goats and camels there to graze and sup- 
plied provisions to passing ships. 

In the sheltered port of Kamaran, which looks towards 
Arabia, Albuquerque's fleet had hung at anchor for eight 
weeks from May till July 1513. All day long a hot wind blew 
feebly across the sea from the Sudan; at night a still more 
burning breeze moved down the desert coast some leagues 
away. The east wind, which could have borne the fleet to Jidda 
or Suez, had taken them to Kamaran and ceased to blow. 
Twice the fleet had left the island on the wings of a deceitful 
breeze that died at once, leaving the ships to float between 
the sandbanks and desert isles. Their sails flapped drearily 



The Land of Prcster John 

to fitful puffs from the north-west. Neither bark, nor boat, nor 
bird flitted across the dead horizon. The shining sea was trans- 
parent and very still. 

A sailing-ship within the Strait of Bab-el-Mandeb between 
April and July was rather like a creature in a cage. She could 
not navigate up channel on the north-west winds prevailing 
at that season, nor could she sail out of the Red Sea into the 
monsoon. There was nothing for it but to stay at Kamaran, 
and there the Portuguese careened their ships. They fed upon 
stray camels left upon the island, they cast their nets for fish, 
and caught and ate the weirdly bright-blue or green crabs 
that swam in the translucent water. They whiled away the 
time by playing chess or cards, and every day they saw their 
comrades die. The summer months at Kamaran were not 
healthful for Europeans. 

While his men counted the days, and cursed their fate, their 
commander discussed the land of Prester John with an inter- 
esting prisoner who introduced himself as Lord of Massawa 
and Sheik of Dahlak. This elderly and distinguished-looking 
"Moor," captured with a nephew at Kamaran, seems to have 
had plenty to say about himself and others. He airily explained 
his own presence on the island by the fact that he had killed 
his cousin's father. The cousin, not unnaturally incensed, had 
obtained assistance from the Sheik of Aden, and so dislodged 
the Sheik of Dahlak from his lauds and sent him into exile 
across the sea. 

Albuquerque and the Sheik appear to have entertained each 
other very well during their stay at Kamaran. Having been 
forcibly ejected from the opposite coast, the Sheik had no 
secrets to keep about those parts and answered every question 
asked with a grim satisfaction. The island of Massawa, he 
said, was so dose to the Abyssinian mainland that "a man 
could shout and be heard on the other shore," and the Sheik 
had all his life had intercourse with the Ethiopians of the 
coast He was so informative that Albuquerque proposed 
sending him to Portugal along with other prisoners, but on 

86 



A Dream in the Desert 

their way to India the man died. His nephew, "who knows the 
language of Prester John and that of Dahlak," was dispatched 
to the King instead, together with an Arab pilot whose wife 
and children lived at Jidda "a marvellous man, by whom 
Your Highness may be better informed." 

Two genuine Abyssinians were also added to the collec- 
tion of distinguished foreigners gathered in the Red Sea and 
sent home for the information of His Highness. Abyssinian 
slaves poor simple wretches kidnapped by Arab traders in 
the hinterland of Massawa were common enough in India, 
but these two men were educated Abyssinians. Ttiey had been 
pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem when they were taken 
prisoner by the Moslems of Suakin. Having escaped, they 
joined the Portuguese at Aden, and Albuquerque easily per- 
suaded them to visit Portugal instead of Palestine. 'They are 
men versed in our doctrine,** he tells the King; "one of them 
knows how to write his language very well, and I also send 
Your Highness an Abyssinian youth who was slave of the 
Soldan's factor at Jidda. I send him as interpreter for the two 
others, who cannot speak Arabic, which he speaks very well, 
besides the language of his own country. 9 " 

With information gleaned from such as these, added to his 
own observations, Albuquerque studied the political prob- 
lems of the Red Sea. For Portuguese supremacy in those wa- 
ters, he told the King, all that was necessary would be to 
occupy Aden and Massawa. 

The shores of the Red Sea in 1513 had many masters, some 
nominal and others real. On the African side, from Bab-el- 
Mandeb up to Suakin was theoretically subject to Prester 
John. In practice, however, the Emperor's authority was 
slight over the Moslem tribes that occupied long stretches of 
the coast. They paid him tribute, it is true; but Abyssinia, hav- 
ing no navy, could not control a single port 

shores above, where roamed wild tribes of Bedouin, belonged 
to the Soldan of Egypt The only town upon this coast was the 

ST 



The Land of Prester John 

abandoned city of Kosseir, "with ruined churches bearing 
signs of crosses on their walls, and Greek inscriptions that 
appear to indicate that it was once inhabited by Christians/* 

Suez was the Soldan's chief port and naval base. There in 
his shipyards lay the half-finished ships that were intended to 
eject the Portuguese from India. The Soldan could not look 
forward to the realization of this pleasant hope in the imme- 
diate future, however, for the wood destined to build his fleet 
had been captured at Rhodes by the Knights of St. John. 

Egyptian rule on the Arabian side of the Red Sea extended 
as far south as Jidda, the port at which the faithful disem- 
barked to visit Mecca. The Sheriff of Jidda and Mecca, who 
held the desert inland, "may have three hundred horsemen 
and no more, and some of these are Bedouin mounted on 
camels." South of Jidda was the Sheriff of Jizem "six hun- 
dred horse, no more" and from Kamaran to the mouth of 
the Straits was the dominion of the Sheik of Aden. 

After the Soldan, the great power of the Red Sea was indis- 
putably the Sheik of Aden. Not only was he Lord of the Gulf, 
but, thanks to his intervention at Dahlak, he controlled all 
those islands. The Sheik of Aden had not given his help for 
nothing, and the exile of Kamaran's usurping cousin had 
gained little but a barren title with his revenge. He was al- 
lowed to live at Massawa on a pension while the Sheik of 
Aden placed a servant of his own to collect the revenues of 
the pearl fisheries that lay all around the islands of Massawa 
and Dahlak. These revenues were considerable, for Arabs 
came in djelbas to fish there from all parts of the coast, and, 
added to the duties that they paid, the first and last two days 
of each man's fishing belonged entirely to the island lord. 

It was Aden that supported Zeila, just outside the Straits: 
The Lord of Zeila and Berbera is a very small thing he can- 
not have two hundred horse; he is maintained by charitable 
offerings from the hinterla$d of Aden and those parts, be- 
cause he makes continual war upon the Christians of Prester 
John." 

88 



A Dream in the Desert 

The Sheik of Aden could afford to spend his money upon 
such pious works for, between the pearls of Dahlak and the 
port of Aden, he must have been doing very well. 

Aden [Albuquerque informs the King] has become a great port 
since Your Highness entered India, because your fleet prevents the 
ships of Jidda and Mecca from navigating at the proper season. As 
they leave late, they cannot enter the Straits and have to discharge 
their merchandise at Aden. They sell it there and buy other goods 
that are brought there from Jidda and those parts, and the mer- 
chants of Aden send the goods to Jidda later on in their ships. In 
Aden are many merchants from Cairo who have great riches in the 
town. Many merchants from Jidda have also come to live at Aden 
because their ships cannot reach the port of Jidda at the right time. 
For this reason Aden has grown much more important than it used 
to be. It is reputed to be the wealthiest place out here; most of the 
gold of Prester John goes into Aden, and all merchandise from the 
land of Prester John. 

Aden commands the mouth of the Straits, and all the ships of 
India on their way to Jidda pass by Aden during the months of 
November, December, and January and February. . . . 

The strategic advantages of holding such a place were ob- 
vious, besides which **Your ships would have a marvellous port 
there, sheltered from every wind thus a fortress at Aden 
would be a sound and profitable thing.** 

Equally sound and profitable would be the fortress at Mas- 
sawa. A territorial base was necessary for a permanent naval 
force to be maintained in the Red Sea, and that was where the 
land of Prester John came in. The "men like unto the sands of 
the sea," so lavishly offered by Queen Helena, are not the 
foundation on which Albuquerque's calculations are drawn 
up; he had lived in the Orient quite long enough to know what 
value might be set upon figures of speech. The Abyssinians, 
he says, "are renowned as very brave, and esteemed by the 
Moors, who know them to be valiant men." Their help would 
no doubt come in useful to the garrison of Massawa, but he 
lays no special stress on the man-power of Abyssinia, 



The Land of Prester John 

Massawa "would be a good port for our ships, because it 
touches the land of Prester John, is the principal port of his 
country, and replete with provisions, and reinforcements of 
men if necessary, or any other thing that we might need. . . /* 
The Portuguese could also barter pepper and other Indian 
merchandise for gold from Abyssinia, and exploit the pearl 
fisheries of DahlaL 

He [the Sheik of Dahlak] told me that Prester John had often 
tried to gain the island of Massawa, but had no means of crossing 
over. He had akeady attempted to fill up the arm of the sea be- 
tween the island and the mainland, but could not Moreover, he 
told me that Prester John greatly desired to see us and have inter- 
course with us and he believed that if a captain of Your Highness 
went there with the fleet, Prester John would come to visit him in 
person, and to see Your Highness's ships. 

A Portuguese fortress at Massawa, backed by the power of 
Prester John, would dominate the whole of the Red Sea to the 
Soldan's complete undoing. "AH the riches of the world will 
be in your hands," Albuquerque tells Dom Manuel. Besides 
the gold and pearls to be collected, there would be no more 
leaking out of spices to the West through Moslem channels, 
"and you could moreover prevent any merchandise from 
Cairo and those ports from entering India except in your 
ships." As for the Egyptian navy sole menace to Portuguese 
supremacy in Eastern waters "Once we have gained a foot- 
ing in the Red Sea, the smallest fleet that visits Suez, if any- 
thing is breeding there, can burn as many ships as they can 
launch before they are armed or equipped/* 

As a seaman Albuquerque was fully aware that the type of 
vessel designed for sailing the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean 
was unsuitable for permanent service in the Red Sea. The 
sixteenth-century Portuguese nau, with her towering super- 
structure, her enormous square sails, and depth of keel requir- 
ing at least three fathoms to float safely, was the most awk- 
ward thing to navigate among the shoals and shallows of those 

40 



Indian Ocean 




RELATIONSHj OF PORTUGUESE INDIA TO THE LAND OF PRESTER JOHN 



A Dream in the Desert 

land-locked waters. "If the Lord please that we should estab- 
lish ourselves on the Red Sea," writes Albuquerque, "and ex- 
plode this menace of Suez and the Soldan's fleet, Your High- 
ness must exchange the square-rigged ships for galleys, with 
perhaps three or four naus among them. Galleys," he explains, 
"can be beached and repaired anywhere, and enter any place." 

This question, however, could be studied later. The first 
steps to be taken were "to settle the afFair of Aden, and build 
a fortress at Massawa. ... I should fortify myself in those 
two places," he advises the King, "and spread no further for 
the present until these two things are settled." 

After that, there was no limit to the possibilities! One need 
only look around and take one's choice: 

Once Your Highness has a base in the land of Prester John, you 
can decide what you want to do with Zeila, Perhaps Prester John 
would like you to destroy it, but, having a fortress at Aden, we 
shall have to draw provisions from Berbera and Zeila, for Aden 
is supplied from there with corn, butter, sheep, maize, and 
honey. . . . 

As for the island of Suakin ... it will be useful for the gold 
that comes not through it ... fifty men can hold the place quite 
easily. 

Zeila and Suakin were mere side issues Jidda was more 
important. Once Massawa was Portuguese, however, then 
Jidda would be theirs: 

For neither spice, nor merchandise, nor food could reach it from 
outside, and if the Soldan would maintain a garrison, he could not 
feed die men, for he would have no source of supply; whereas 
Your Highness can hold the place and draw provisions from the 
land of Prester John, just opposite. 

Prester John would also furnish the Portuguese witib mounts 
*there are many good horses in the land of Prester John." 
These could be shipped across to Jidda, and in one lightning 
raid their riders would burn Mecca to the ground. To destroy 
Mecca strikes Albuquerque as very easy, nor would many 

41 



The Land of Prester John 

men be necessary to do the deed. The Sheriff was not power- 
ful, and in Mecca itself were no men-at-arms, only a few 
devotees "with henna-stained nails, and rosaries in their 
hands." Nor was Egypt likely to help the holy city, for 

the succour the Soldan could send to Mecca would not be much. 
He has seven thousand horsemen within his fortress, which has a 
wider enclosure than that of Evora. He will not part with any of 
these, for they are his bodyguard, and every now and then some of 
those alguazils who succeed to the throne attack them and thrust 
them out. His Emirs, which are his chief captains, will not give up 
any of their own men, nor yet themselves leave Cairo. Neither the 
Lord of Damascus, nor that of Aleppo and those other fortresses 
near Shah Ismail's frontiers would leave them unprotected. There- 
fore it seems to me that the Soldan might send a thousand horse, 
and to provide those for the march would mean ten thousand 
camels and a constant supply of provisions from Cairo, which 
would be very difficult to organize from such a distance. But let us 
say that he sends two thousand horse could not five or six hun- 
dred Portuguese, on a good day and in a fortunate hour, fight 
against two or three thousand Moorish horsemen and defeat them 
and put them all to flight? And if it seemed to us that there was 
any risk about it, there are so many good horses in the land of 
Prester John that it would be an easy thing to mount a thousand 
Portuguese, the more so that the passage is so short. ... I have 
in mind greater things than these that we could do if once we gain 
a footing there, and make alliance with the land of Prester John. 

He did not forget that Abyssinia held the upper reaches of 
the Nile. Therein lay certain victory over Egypt: 

If the King our Lord would send out some of those engineers 
wfco make cuttings through the mountains of Madeira, they could 
divert the flood of the Nile and turn it aside from watering the 
lands of Cairo thus in two years Cairo would be undone, and 
the whole country ruined. . . . 

A thrust at Islam such as Albuquerque proposed would 
have meant the deliverance of Christendom from the spectre 
that had haunted it for seven centuries. To understand the full 

42 



A Dream in the Desert 

significance of that we must view it through the eyes of those 
who lived four hundred years ago, when the capture of Con- 
stantinople by the Turks was still a living memory. Panic- 
mongers in modern times have talked about the yellow peril, 
but the Moslem menace to Europe of that day was no alarm- 
ist's scare. It was a palpitating and hideous reality. Pressing 
hard on the confines of Christendom all through the Middle 
Ages were the dreaded scimitars wielded by Moor, Arab, or 
Turk an alien race, an alien faith, an alien civilization 
ever waiting to bear down and swallow up. How many times 
they really had swept over, how often the fate of the Western 
world had trembled in the balance, we have only to read our 
history books to recollect. The tide had been held back, but 
not yet turned. The great Christian empire to be built in the 
East Portugal backed up by Prester John would deal the 
death blow in the foeman's flank, and win the final victory for 
the Cross* It is not strange that Portuguese imperialists felt 
themselves to be workers on a design approved by God. 

On a dark night in the Red Sea, when the fleet lay at 
anchor outside the harbour, hoping for a breeze, a brilliant 
cross rose in the sky and shone over tie land of Prester John- 
It was clearly seen from each one of the ships, and all the men 
fell on their knees. "I took it that Our Lord had sent this sign/* 
wrote Albuquerque, "to show that He would have us go that 
way." But still no wind arose that could have blown the fleet 
over to Massawa. 

Albuquerque's duties as Governor of India obliged him to 
return there after the monsoon. The fleet from Portugal 
reached India between August and October, and there were 
all the mails to be received and answered, the homebound 
fleet to be dispatched, and hundreds of other matters to be 
looked into. Shortage of time to get through all the work that 
rested on his shoulders handicapped Albuquerque as seri- 
ously as the shortage of more material things. In 1513 he re- 
turned to India from the Red Sea in September, fully deter- 
mined to sail back again early the following year: "I must 

43 



The Land of Prester John 

leave for the Straits in January," he told the King, "if any profit 
is to come of it." But he found his ships were quite unfit to 
navigate so soon; their wooden sides were warped and blis- 
tered and burst open by the scorching sun of the Red Sea. By 
great good luck all except one survived the return voyage, but 
none of them could sail again without wholesale repair. That 
fort of Massawa on which so much depended could not be 
built just then. 

The project became the fixed purpose on which Albu- 
querque's mind was bent for the remaining two years of his 
life. He thought of it all through 1514 in India as he took a 
hand in the intricate game of Indian politics. When, in 1515, 
a number of circumstances obliged him to build a fort at Or- 
muz instead of sailing into the Red Sea, he only postponed 
Prester John and Massawa to the next year. 

**We have no unsettled question left in India now but that 
of Aden and the Red Sea," he wrote from Ormuz to the King 
on September 22, and: "May it please Our Lord, 3 * he says upon 
another page of the same letter, "that we should fix ourselves 
at Massawa the port of Prester John." By that date Albu- 
querque must have realized that he himself had little chance 
to do it; yet when, on November 8, desperately ill, he left the 
Persian Gulf for India, it appears that he clung to his idea still 
THe told me/* writes the captain of the Ormuz garrison, "that 
on the 1st of January I was to send part of the fleet and men 
to him for entering the Straits, . . .* If he had made any sort 
of recovery, it is clear that he meant to waste no time in con- 
valescing, but somehow to drag himself to Massawa and build 
that f ort! 

And if he had done so what then? Could the rest of his 
program have been carried out? Would it have been possible 
to destroy Mecca and give Egypt to the desert to change 
the history of the world and alter the face of the map? 

It certainly seems wild, but there was never anything of the 
unpractical visionary in Albuquerque. He showed at aJQL times 
a nnn grasp of fact and a kera sense of reality. Anything he 

44 



A Frustrated Mission 

set himself to do he did, and much of what he achieved ap- 
peared impossible. Whether this last scheme was workable 
we speculate in vain, for the only man whose genius might 
have realized the dream died at the zenith of his glory, and 
the brilliant vision was extinguished with his light 



A Frustrated Mission 




One day at Evora so runs the tale the King, Dom Ma- 
nuel, ordered a tunic to be made out of a rich Oriental cloth. 

The tunic turned out a success. Dom Manuel was pleased 
with his appearance when he put it on. He disported himself 
in his new garment before all the courtiers, who dutifully 
went into ecstasies. Duarte Galvao, the elderly historian, 
alone gazed with a disapproving eye. Not thus, he observed 
austerely, had Dom Manuel's predecessors on the throne of 
Portugal behaved. Duty was what engrossed those kingly 
minds, not dress! 

Dom Manuel responded to this admonition by appointing 
Duarte Galvao ambassador to Prester John upon the spot. 

The tunic story may be fact or fiction, but that the sequel 
was the King's revenge is certainly untrue. Court gossips 
might well represent it in that light To be torn away from 
the amenities of palace life and embark for the wilds of Abys- 
sinia would be a grim chastisement to these butterflies, but 
it is certain that Duarte Galvao did not view it so. We have it 
on his own authority that there was nothing that he more 
ardently desired. He felt that such an embassy would be a 
unique opportunity for serving God. "I should be very happy, 9 * 
he wrote to his friend Afonso de Albuquerque, "if the King 
would send me," He might be rather old for an undertaking 

46 



A 'Frustrated Mission 

of that nature, but: "There is neither old age nor weakness in 
the sendee of God, so long as there are devotion and good 
will. . . ." 

This letter is undated, but we gather from the context that 
It was written in 1513. Matthew had not yet arrived in Portu- 
gal, but it was already known that he was on the way, and the 
idea of an embassy to Prester John was being earnestly dis- 
cussed. 

The envoy's warm reception when his ship came in at last 
has already been seen. For a year Matthew was entertained in 
Portugal, together with his young companion, whose name 
was Jacob, we are told. Receiving ambassadors was expensive 
in those days. Not only had one to lodge and feed one's guests, 
but to dress them as well. Dom Manuel played the host in 
style. The strangers lived in luxury at his gorgeous court, and 
their wardrobe was renewed every few months. 

The King, meanwhile, prepared a fitting answer to his long- 
sought ally Prester John. Matthew would return to Abyssinia 
in the train of a fully equipped Portuguese embassy, com- 
plete with present. The latter was an offering worthy of one 
great king to another. To enumerate all the beautiful and 
costly objects mentioned in the list that has come down to 
us would take too long. It must have required a miracle of 
packing, but the desirability of travelling light was not con- 
sidered in those spacious days. 

Chief among the rich collection figured a lordly bed a bed 
of ample size we gather from the fact that the four fine linen 
sheets that went with it were nearly five yards long. The 
sleeper reclining upon this couch would be sheltered by blue 
and yellow taffeta curtains, with a tastefully painted canopy 
above. An emperor with a crown upon his head sat there 
aloft, in the act of crowning a queen, while four men sounded 
trumpets in the corner. Six large mattresses stuffed with me- 
rino wool were provided for this super-bed; the bolsters and 
the pillows, also stuffed with wool, were embroidered in gold* 
For chilly nights a woollen blanket, embellished with the ar- 

47 



The Land of Prester John 

morial bearings of Dom Manuel, was thoughtfully supplied. 
The bed-cover was of yellow damask and black velvet inter- 
woven with gold threads, and there was also a white embroi- 
dered counterpane. As a suitable background for such a bed 
were Flemish cloths of silk and gold to hang upon the bed- 
room wall. Rich cushions of all kinds were added to the gift, 
and a brocaded chair studded with silver nails. 

Not only Prester John's bedroom but also his dining-room 
was to be furnished by Dom Manuel. He had a beautiful table 
made in finest marquetry for his royal brother, with a cloth of 
silk and gold to spread upon it. A complete dinner-service 
went with this, including knives, fruit-dishes, and several sets 
of tablecloths, each over eight yards long napkins and hand- 
towels as well, all embroidered in gold. 

Two complete costumes "everything required to dress a 
man from shirt to cloak" were likewise offered, one in silk 
and gold, the second in damask; rich suits of armour, swords, 
shields, harness for horses everything in gold, silver, and 
finest steel. 

After supplying Prester John the wherewithal to sleep, 
dress, dine, and fight in dazzling elegance, his spiritual and 
intellectual needs were contemplated. All things pertaining 
to religious service and the complete equipment of a church 
were provided: devotional pictures, candles, altar-pieces, 
vestments, organs, bells, illuminated missals, and Legends of 
the Saints in Portuguese. Thirty books of catechism were 
moreover added, and finally a thousand children's reading- 
books. 

These are only a few items of Dom Manuel's tremendous 
gift 

It took some preparation, but there was plenty of time. 
Matthew's unpleasant voyage from India had been particu- 
larly long. Though he had left Cannanore in January 1513, he 
only disembarked in Lisbon thirteen months later. The fleet 
for India always sailed in the spring. It was too late to join the 
1514 voyage, but the embassy was organized to leave the ol- 

48 



A Frustrated Mission 

lowing year. In 1515 Duarte Galvao hoped to see his heart's 
desire fulfilled. Duarte Galvao was a man of letters and his 
delight took literary form. He sat down happily and penned 
a stirring Exhortation, urging all men to join the holy enter- 
prise of Christian expansion overseas. 

The King's choice of ambassador was sound in many ways. 
Duarte Galvao had experience and learning, and we have seen 

JL O' 

that he took a serious view of life. He had been secretary to 
Afonso V and counsellor to both Dom Joao II and Dom Ma- 
nuel. Foreign affairs seem to have been the special sphere of his 
activity, and his diplomatic talent had been proved on more 
than one occasion when he was sent on embassies to Louis 
XII of France, the Emperor Maximilian, and the Pope. Ori- 
ental affairs also interested him, and when, in 1500, Pedral- 
vares Cabral had sailed for Calicut, the letter in Arabic and 
Portuguese which he carried for the Samorin had been drafted 
by Duarte Galvao. 

' Against all this has to be set his age. Duarte Galvao was 
seventy. A less optimistic generation might have thought he 
was too old to travel so far, but the sixteenth century showed 
a superb disregard for such material details. That same year 
Dom Manuel was appointing to be Governor of India a man 
subject to epileptic fits. If an infirmity of that kind were no 
obstacle to occupying a strenuous post of high command, then 
a healthy septuagenarian might well go to Abyssinia! 

The other members of the Ethiopian mission were Lopo 
de Vilalobos, who was to act as secretary; Louren9o de Cosmo, 
in charge of the present; and the chaplain, Padre Francisco 
Alvares, of later fame as the first European to write a book on 
Abyssinia. Duarte Galvao's young son Jorge also went east 
with him,, not as a delegate, but to serve in India, where his 
brother Ruy already had spent several years. 

Our friend Matthew, of course, accompanied the embassy, 
as well as the boy Jacob. Each one received for parting gift 
a complete new outfit of apparel: breeches, doublets, tunics, 
cloaks, several pairs of shoes, slippers, and hosen; six fine 



The Land of Prester John 

linen shirts and six pairs of pants for Matthew, two of each for 
the boy all of these garments packed in a handsome leather 
trunk closed by two locks. 

What had happened to Matthew's wife (or wives ) by then 
we cannot say. The chronicles are silent and the documents 
refer to them no more. His retinue included a number of 
slaves and servants, and we now hear of an Abyssinian friar. 
Where the latter had been picked up is not explained. It 
seems that Matthew introduced him as a very holy man of 
exalted connections in his native country. 

So the two ambassadors set sail and quarrelled all the 
way. It is difficult to tell whose was the fault. Perhaps we 
should not blame either too severely a six months* voyage, 
cramped quarters in a little ship, nothing to do, and the same 
faces every day! It could be a strain on anyone's good nature, 
and Matthew had a very peculiar temper, while Duarte Gal- 
vao was a peppery old gentleman. To add to the general un- 
pleasantness, Matthew and his holy man fell foul of each 
other. This was no good Christian but a Moslem, Matthew 
said, and the holy man resented the insult. Finally, by way 
of climax to a disagreeable voyage, the youth Jacob became 
very SI. 

When the fleet came into port at Goa, matters did not im- 
prove. It is important to remember that this fleet had sailed 
under the command of Lopo Soares de Albergaria, an inca- 
pable and rather stupid epileptic, chosen by the King to su- 
persede a genius. The series of petty intrigues that had led to 
his appointment as Governor of India do not concern us here. 
What bore directly upon the embassy to Prester John was the 
fact that Lopo Soares s sense of inferiority found expression 
in a black and bitter hatred for everything connected with 
his mighty predecessor. It was weD known that Albuquerque 
had attached great importance to Matthew and his mission; 
consequently Lopo Soares frowned on both. He appears to 
have had a certain respect for Duarte Galvao, but Galvao had 

50 



A Frustrated Mission 

been Albuquerque's friend, which was quite enough for the 
new Governor to dislike him. 

The fleet made the briefest call at Goa - not much longer 
than was necessary for Lopo Soares to make his entry in the 
town as Governor. Correct procedure would have been to wait 
till Albuquerque's return from Ormuz and take over from 
him, but when dealing with his rival Lopo Soares did not care 
to be correct. It would be humiliating for Albuquerque to ar- 
rive and find that he had been dispossessed, so Lopo Soares 
assumed control at once. 

While the Governor was ashore introducing himself to the 
unenthusiastic Goanese, he received a letter from Duarte Gal- 
vao, who had not disembarked: the Abvssinian bov was eet- 
* * * c? 

ting worse. Sixteenth-century ships did not cater for invalids, 
and Duarte Galvao, at Matthew's request, begged Lopo 
Soares to have him received into Goa hospital for treatment. 
Lopo Soares took no notice at all, nor would he even trouble 
to have a physician sent to the patient on board. 

The fleet sailed for Cochin via Chaul and Cannanore. Poor 
Jacob's condition became desperate, and between Baticala 
and Cannanore he died. Matthew was devoted to the boy, and 
his grief was pathetic. Duarte Galvao, irascible though he 
might be, was a land soul. He forgot that he and Matthew 
could not bear each other, and sat by the dying Jacob, says 
Padre Francisco Alvares, "until the end, consoling the ambas- 
sador and expounding to hi the doctrines of Holy Mother 
Church" 

The colleagues seemed completely reconciled. Jacob was 
"buried honourably* at Cannanore, and Father Francisco re- 
mained some days ashore with Matthew to arrange for Masses 
for the dead boy's soul. Matthew decided to buy a palm grove 
to endow tihe church to this effect, and had a note sent to Du- 
arte Galvao on the ship requesting him to come ashore and 
give advice. 

All would have been quite serene if Padre Francisco had 

51 



The Land of Prester John 

not added to the letter his petition that the Abyssinian monk, 
who had also fallen very ill, should be brought ashore and 
interned in the hospital. 

Duarte Galvao came at once, bringing the invalid, where- 
upon, to everyone's surprise, Matthew went off into a purple 
fuiy. They had let Jacob die, he cried, and they would save 
this Moslem monk! 

"If he were either Moor or Jew," replied Duarte Galvao, 
"why on earth did you bring him with you from Portugal and 
say that he was such a holy man?'* 

Matthe w*s answer was a burst of Arabic that the interpreter 
absolutely declined to translate. 

Duarte Galvao beat a dignified retreat. "When he is calmer,** 
said he to the interpreter, "tell him that I withdrew to trouble 
him no further." l But Matthew showed no signs of calming 
down. He turned upon Padre Francisco. How had he dared 
send for that monk? When Prester John heard of it, he would 
have Padre Francisco cut up into dices, bit by bit, and when 
Jacob's father knew, he would kill all the Portuguese! 

In Portugal, remarked the interpreter reprovingly, one did 
not speak fike that to one's father confessor! Whereupon the 
mercurial Matthew, suddenly repentant, threw himself at the 
chaplain's feet and kissed his hand, begging for his forgive- 
ness and lus blessing. Father Francisco gave him both at once 
like a good Christian, but to make peace with Matthew's en- 
raged colleague was more difficult. There seem to have been 
further passages of arms between them, for Lopo de Vilalobos, 
the secretary, states that, dropping into Matthew's lodging he 
found him in tears: Duarte Galvao had been calling him a 
Moor, wailed Matthew, and it was a lie! 

Unfortunately, there was too much time for this sort of 
thing* Lopo Scares did not propose to sail for the Red Sea 
before January 1517, Meanwhile the embassy was at a loose 
end 

It must have been a very unpleasant year in India. Every- 
body seems to have been quarrelling with someone else, and 

52 



A Frustrated Mission 

the Governor made no attempt to put things right. He himself 
was in a sour temper. The triumph that he had looked for- 
ward to did not come off. His enemy had indeed returned 
from Onnuz in December, but the man perversely died be- 
fore he disembarked! Lopo Soares felt himself foiled, and 
more than ever viewed the Abyssinian delegation with a 
jaundiced eye. Matthew declares" that he treated him "worse 
than a captive," while Duarte Galvao complains of the Gover- 
nor's curt and offhand manner towards himself. On his side, 
Lopo Soares told the old man that his character was very 
difficult! 

Duarte Galvao was hurt. Never, said he stiffly, had such a 
thing been suggested before! Three kings of Portugal had he 
served and he had had dealings with many others of Christen- 
dom, to say nothing of emperors and popes. Never had any 
of these exalted personages found him otherwise than easy to 
get on with. "I rise and depart, 9 * said he majestically, **happy 
in the esteem in which the aforesaid princes have ever held 



Beyond this consoling thought he found solace in the study 
of the Abyssinian alphabet, two copies of which he made out 
for Dom Manuel. "I am very pleased with them,** he writes, 
"and so will Your Highness be when you see them." His en- 
thusiasm for his mission remained quite undamped. He told 
the King that he had never been so keen on any other, "though 
this one is more difficult and I am olden . . * 

When 1517 at last came round he was one of the minority 
who did not embark plunged in profoundest gloom. The Red 
Sea cruise was organized with two objectives: to land the em- 
bassy upon the African coast and then to seek out and fight 
the Turkish fleet wherever it might be. This was the year 
when Salman Rais, the Turkoman, embarked on his career of 
conquest. Already his men were occupying the Red Sea ports 
and building themselves ships. The veterans of HwKa had not 
the least objection to fighting the Turk; the trouble was that 
they did not wish to go with Lopo Soares. As one of their num- 

53 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

her has set on record: The men of India had no pleasure in 
serving under Lopo Soares, seeing that he was hostile to 
everything connected with Afonso de Albuquerque, whom 
they all loved with all their hearts." 

It would have been difficult to love Lopo Soares. They say 
that he seldom spoke to anyone, and when he did, it was un- 
graciously. His subordinates in India acted much as they liked 
one gentleman even took possession of a ship and set up as 
a pirate on his own account but in the Governor's presence 
no man might sit, nor cover his head save on the rare occa- 
sions when requested so to do. This, Lopo Soares felt, was 
discipline! 

The men of India were not used to being treated like that 
The late Governor had never hedged himself round with such 
ritual. He had ruled them with a rod of iron and worked them 
off their feet, but he had always been their comrade none the 
less, and even his enemies admit that he had pleasant man- 
ners. He had been a martinet, no doubt, but he was a martinet 
with a sense of humour, and though his rebukes were wither- 
ing, they also made one laugh. In Lopo Soares there was not 
a gleam cf fun. He was a stick, and very disagreeable. 

Duarte Galvao, thrilled to the core at the prospective fulfil- 
ment of his sacred mission, thought it a pity that anyone 
should sail reluctantly. He caused his Exhortation to be circu- 
lated in the fleet, to see if that would cheer them up. It was, 
one reader observes admiringly, **a very substantial treatise, 
setting forth the praise and honour due to the conquerors of 
India . . . and the great merit before God of those who lost 
their lives in such a war. . . ? Duarte Galvao was a historian, 
and noble examples from the past flowed from his pen. None 
of these, he affirmed, were equal to the achievements in India, 
which were miraculous, the greatest in the world, and brought 
about by God! The effect of this disquisition upon the temper- 
amental souls who read it was dynamic. A flame of enthusi- 
asm leaped in every breast **because the happenings in India 
being quite modem and of recent memory, many felt that 

54 



A Frustrated Mission 

these praises applied to them." In a happy glow of self-satis- 
faction, retrospective and prospective, all' put out to sea, 

As for Matthew, he sailed in an angelic frame of mindL Be- 
fore embarking he had sought out Duarte Galvao and "begged 
to be forgiven for the love of God." They ought to be good 
friends, said Matthew, since they were bound on such a holy 
errand Father Francisco's words, no doubt; the good priest 
seems to have been working hard in the interests of peace 
between the two ambassadors, for "both are my spiritual sons," 
says he benignly. Duarte Galvao agreed to draw a veil over 
the past, but he and Matthew wisely embarked on different 
ships. Padre Francisco, at Duarte Galvao's request, went with 
his fiery penitent, "so that I might consolidate their friend- 
ship." 

It was a good thing for poor Matthew that the chaplain 
remained by him. The ship's captain, a nephew of Lopo 
Scares, showed himself worthy of his charming uncle by be- 
ing unpleasant to his passenger. More than once Padre Fran- 
cisco intervened to prevent the Armenian's being cheated of 
his rations. Despite such provocation, Matthew's advance in 
grace continued to surprise his ghostly father: "He who used 
to be like a furious lion now showed himself as gentle as a 
lamb." After all, said Matthew philosophically, he would be 
at home in a few weeks. It hardly was worth while to make 
a fuss. 

Before entering the Straits, the fleet halted at Aden. The 
Sheik was panic-stricken when he saw so many ships thirty- 
eight sailing all together! The fleet that had passed in 1513 
was not much over half that size. He sent a messenger on 
board at once with the keys of the town to offer to Lopo 
Soares. 

Lopo Soares waved them aside with many thanks. He had 
no time, said he, to go into this matter. All that he wanted 
now were pilots and provisions. On his return from the Red 
Sea he would be happy to accept the town. 

The fiddgos gasped, the messenger was just a little stag- 

55 



The Land of Prester John 

gered and Af onso de Albuquerque must have turned in his 
grave! 

The Sheik could scarcely believe in his luck. He sounded 
trumpets and lit bonfires on the hills. He covered the sea with 
boatloads of provisions for the fleet and sent them all the pilots 
that they required. Thus they were speeded on their way and 
the Sheik no doubt thumbed his nose when he saw them 
depart. 

Red Sea navigation was never easy for deep-draught sail- 
ing-ships. Albuquerque had f ound too little wind, Lopo Soares 
encountered too much. To make matters worse, against the 
advice of the pilots, he refused to anchor by night The whole 
fleet nearly came to grief in consequence, and one smaller 
boat completely vanished. Some forty men, including Duarte 
Galvao's son Jorge, had been on board. It was surmised that 
they had run aground and might yet reappear, but for Jorge's 
rather the suspense was cruel. 

Following this loss the old ship Fr 61 da Rosa broke in two. 
The crew was rescued, but some valuable artillery remained 
on board. It was suggested to the Governor that a ship go 
alongside and save it. "Tonight/* answered Lopo Soares. 
"However/* says Caspar Correa, "the ship did not wait till 
then, but sank.* 

Meanwhile the ship Sao Pedro, with Father Francisco and 
Matthew, had dropped behind and then been blown away. 
TTiey found themselves entangled among the reefs and islands 
between Suakin and Dahlak. They remained three weeks be- 
fore this island, not knowing what had happened to the rest 
of the fleet. 

At Dahlak Matthew had the pleasure of meeting several 
acquaintances, both Christian and Moslem. He seems to have 
enjoyed his own prestige as envoy newly returned from the 
court of the great King of Portugal, and he let his public know 
that a magnificent present was on its way to Prester John. In 
spite of all this he urged the captain not to stay at Dahlak. 
Ine inhabitants, he said, were treacherous and unsafe. Let 

56 



A Frustrated Mission 

them anchor rather near Arkiko, whence they could get into 
touch with the Bahr Nagach who ruled the land near the sea- 
coast for Prester John. Padre Francisco volunteered to go and 
seek that dignitary himself with a few others. The captain, 
however, like his uncle, was determined to pay no attention 
to anything that Matthew might suggest. 

Two caravels appeared about this time, one of them in 
charge of Lourengo de Cosmo. The Governor had sent them 
to reconnoitre the coast. The captain of Sao Pedro, anxious to 

fet rid of Matthew, promptly transferred him to Lourengo 
e Cosmo's ship and sailed to join his uncle's fleet at Kamaran. 
Matthew, left behind under protest, continued to urge 
Lourengo de Cosmo and the other captain not to stay at Dah- 
lak. They preferred to listen to the slippery Grenadine inter- 
preter who came with them, and arranged that they should 
land and parley with the Sheik of the island. Matthew refused 
to disembark with them, and therein showed that he was wise. 
Lourengo de Cosmo and two others were killed, while the 
rest managed to escape. Admitting too late that the Armenian 
had been right, the survivors sailed back to Kamaran. 

Matthew's colleague had not been having a more satisfac- 
tory time. Duarte Galvao's ship had continued to follow the 
fleet, and Lopo Soares announced that Jidda was his first ob- 
jective. It was suggested that the fleet was short of water and 
it might be well to take on supplies at Kamaran before pro- 
ceeding farther, but the Governor scouted the idea. Were not 
the Turks installed at Jidda with eighteen newly-built galleys? 
Lopo Soares would not turn back for anything until he had 
burned those Turkish ships! They were no true knigjhts, but 
Jews and cowards, who would do otherwise. To Jidda he 
would go! 

And to Jidda he went, full sail. There were the Turks all 
rigjht, also the galleys, and plenty of artillery besides, which 
fired on the ships as they zigzagged into port. Regardless of 
the fire, the fleet manoeuvred in and out of the sandbanks and 
narrow channels, while the Turks looked on amazed at such 

57 



The Land of Prester John 




The 

fidalgos waited breathlessly for their commander to propound 
to them his plan of attack 

Three days passed. The fleet lay at anchor in the port of 
Jidda. The Portuguese looked at the Turks, who watched 
them with interest. Absolutely nothing happened. Then, one 
fine morning, signalling to his fleet to follow, Lopo Soares 
calmly sailed away. The captains swore and cursed, Duarte 
Galvao remonstrated, while the Turks howled with joy. Fer- 
nao Gomes de Lemos, who had fought with elephants at 
Malacca, disregarded the command and hung behind. He 
started firing at the galliot nearest to him, but the galliot sim- 
ply fled, so Fernao Gomes got no fun. 

Lopo Soares locked himself up in his cabin. "Go away and 
do not disturb me!" he told Duarte Galvao. But acoustics are 
good on wooden ships, and the old-timers waxed reminiscent 
just outside his door. Lopo Soares could hear the most wither- 
ing comparisons drawn between him and his predecessor. 

Duarte Galvao supposed that now, at any rate, the embassy 
would be escorted to the opposite coast, but Lopo Soares said 
that it would be imprudent to divide the fleet. On the other 
hand, to leave the Red Sea was impossible, the monsoon sea- 
son having started in the Indian Ocean. They therefore made 
for Kamaran a nightmare voyage. 

The water supply had all but given out. A quarter of a pint 
was each man's daily allowance, and that in a blazing heat 
"that burned men's bodies up." They died cursing the Gover- 
nor for dragging them to Jidda uselessly. 

The dismal island of Kamaran was welcomed as a haven of 
salvation. Water was there! Men, half crazy with thirst and 
heat, threw themselves bodily into the blessed element, and 
lingered in it "until they fell and died." 

Following the agony of sailing thirsty over a burning sea 
came that of starvation on the desert sand. Kamaran had been 
described as purgatory m 1513, but this year it was heJL On 

58 



A Frustrated Mission 

the previous occasion there had been at least camels to eat. 
This time the island offered absolutely nothing. One small 
ration of boiled rice was dealt out daily, and men had to 
subsist on that. In 1513 Albuquerque had succeeded in ob- 
taining occasional provisions from the Yemen coast. Lopo 
Soares tried to do the same, but failed. "Return to Jidda!" he 
was told derisively. That absurd performance was the joy of 
all the sheiks by the Red Sea. Never was a commander's pres- 
tige more completely gone. Lopo Soares scarcely dared to 
come ashore, his own men cursed him so. They wrote insults 
upon the walls, and swam out to his ship at night merely to 
shout abuse. They had endured hardship before, but never 
without glory. It was bitter to have been brought to such a 
pass merely to look like fools. 

Thus the long, empty days passed by while starving men 
gasped out their lives beneath a blazing sky, before a sea 
of brass. 

And Duarte Galvao, the scholarly intellectual, the coun- 
sellor of kings, who had so gladly sacrificed the ease of his 
declining years to link up Christendom with Prester John? 
He who had come so far in pursuit of a dream now saw it 
dying with himself upon the arid shores of Kamaran. He 
waited for news of his son, which never came, and he waited 
to be sent upon a mission that was not to be fulfilled. He 
begged Lopo Soares to let him cross to Massawa, but the 
Governor refused. He did dispatch the caravels to recon- 
noitre, as has been seen; but he would not allow the ambassa- 
dor to go with them. When Lourengo de Cosmo had re- 
ported, he said, then Duarte Galvao might go. 

A day came when the old man gave up hope. His son was 
lost for ever, and he himself would not see Prester John. He 
had travelled aH that weary way merely to die of grief on 
this forsaken isle. 

Father Francisco arrived at Kamaran shortly before the 
end. "Padre," said Duarte Galvao, "you ask me how I am, but 
you do not tell me of the death of my son!** 

59 



The Land of Prcster John 

"Sir,** answered the good priest, "if God please, he may be 
at some port of the country from which we have come/* 

"I am far more certain," said the dying man, "that he and all 
those on his ship are now in paradise, where Our Lord will in 
His mercy surely take them, since they died in His service and 
that of the King." 

Duarte Galvao joined his son on June 9, and he was buried 
in the sand at Kamaran. Nine years later Padre Francisco 
disinterred his bones, and they were carried back to Portugal. 

Lopo Soares saw himself relieved of the necessity of going 
to Massawa. It is true that he still had Matthew on his hands, 
but he did not mean to trouble about him. He sent word to 
the Armenian that he might be left at Aden, Berbera, or Zeila. 
Matthew declared quite truly that at none of these Moslem 
ports was it safe for him to land. On his side he suggested 
three alternatives: if Lopo Soares did not wish to send him 
over to Arkiko, let him then return to India, or remembering 
the good time he had enjoyed there to Portugal! The Gov- 
ernor permitted him to remain with the fleet, but announced 
that he would leave him at Ormuz. 

On the return voyage Lopo Soares attacked and burned 
Zeila, to feel that he had done something after all. He called 
at Aden once again, but the obliging offer of five months be- 
fore was not renewed. The fleet seems to have dispersed about 
this time. There was great shortage of food and drink and 
*each captain went to seek for both where he thought fit." 
Their commander made no attempt to round them up. Times 
had changed since they went cruising under Albuquerque, 
when the fleet was counted from the flagship masthead every 
morning and no unit dared to venture out of sight! 

Padre Francisco landed together at Cochin sole members 
of a mission that had fizzled out. Duarte Galvao, the prin- 
cipal, lay in a solitary grave at Kamaran, Louren9o de Cosmo 
had been beheaded at Dahlak. Lopo de Vflalobos, the only 
one of the party who appears to have been in the Governor's 

80 



A Frustrated Mission 

good books, was sent home to explain what had occurred as 
plausibly as could be managed. 

Padre Francisco Alvares remained at Cochin awaiting or- 
ders from the King. "I beg Your Highness/' he writes, "if you 
send another message to Prester John, that I may not be left 
behind." 

Poor Matthew was not very happy nor well treated, but, 
says Father Francisco, "he was much consoled by the letters 
from Your Highness which I read to him even* day." 

As for the present the magnificent and multifarious pres- 
ent, consisting of such exquisite works of art, and estimated at 
a value of more than 30,000 cruzados in the damp heat of 
the tropics it rotted away. "All was lost through the fault of 
Lopo Scares," says Caspar Correa, "and Lopo Soares never 
paid for it"I 



61 




The Improvised Embassy 




(jive a dog a bad name and hang him, says the proverb. It 
may well be cited in poor Matthew's case. The charge of be- 
ing a false ambassador, first invented by Caspar Pereira for 
ulterior motives, continued to shadow his career. In spite of 
all proofs to the contrary, people would persist in doubting 
him. Even Dom Manuel, by whom he had been received with 
open arms and treated as an honored guest, is said by some to 
have expressed misgivings about Matthew, The only persons, 
in fact, who had always seemed quite certain that he was 
genuine were Padre Francisco Alvares, who heard him in con- 
fession, and Albuquerque, who seldom, if ever, failed to size 
up any man correctly. But the first of these two had little 
power to help, and the second was dead. 

Matthew tells the King that Lopo Soares gave him poison 
at Cochin. *My Lord, you are a saint," he writes entreatingly, 
"and you know everything. Do not give ear to Lopo Soares, 
since he tried to loll me, which God did not permit.'* Matthew 
had an excitable imagination. It is unlikely that Lopo Soares 
really attempted to poison him, but it is certain that the Gov- 
ernor made his life unpleasant. The wretched ambassador 
must have been delighted when Diogo Lopes de Sequeira 
came to take Lopo Soares's place at the end of 1518. 

Diogo Lopes had not much more confidence in Matthew 



The Improvised Embassy 

than most people had. All the same, he was quite willing to 
repatriate him, and in 1520 took him with the fleet to the 
Red Sea. 

At the time that Diogo Lopes had left Portugal, Duarte 
Galvao was supposed to be in Abyssinia. The new Governor 
was therefore under orders to proceed to Massawa and learn 
what answer Prester John had given to Dom Manuel's mes- 
sage. We do not know what fresh instructions the King sent 
out when he heard of Duarte Galvao's death and the com- 
plete collapse of the embassy. Whatever they were, Diogo 
Lopes sailed for the Straits on January 8, 1520, taking with 
him not only Matthew but Padre Francisco Alvares, who still 
was dreaming of the land of Prester John. A few of the skilled 
craftsmen and musicians who had originally come out with 
the delegation seem to have gone as well, all of which looks 
as if the Governor had definite intentions with regard to 
Abyssinia. 

Like his predecessor, however, Diogo Lopes's first idea was 
to reach Jidda and chastise the Turks. But this time the ca- 
pricious wind of the Red Sea refused to take them there, so 
the fleet fetched up at Massawa instead. 

"Massawa is a very beautiful place," the Sheik of Dahlak 
had informed Albuquerque at Kamaran, Perhaps it was, as 
Red Sea standards went; but what the Portuguese saw on 
arriving there does not answer such a description: a little bay 
sheltered from every wind, and a little island with a cluster 
of stone houses and a mosque. No springs of water were there, 
and no wells, only twenty-two cisterns sunk into the ground 
to catch the rain. The mainland could be seen close opposite, 
and the village of Arkiko, consisting of straw houses fenced 
around by thorns. There was another islet in tie bay, over- 
grown by wild scrub and that was all there was to Mas- 
sawa! Yet this port was known to be an important trade em- 
porium by the shores of the Red Sea, The Arab ships, after 
passing Bab-el-Mandeb, would call at Dahlak fist and 
then at Massawa, where they bartered Indian produce for 

65 



The Land of Prestcr John 

gold, ivory, butter, wax, and Abyssinian slaves kidnapped 
inland. 

There was no sign of such activities when Diogo Lopes's 
fleet swung into harbour. Throughout the village not a crea- 
ture could be seen. It might have been an island of the dead. 
All the inhabitants had obviously been seized with panic and 
bolted when they saw the ships appear. 

Two men were discovered at last, in hiding on the smaller 
island, and they were brought to Matthew, who conversed 
with them in their own language, after which, slightly reas- 
sured, their companions came out. We owe a grim description 
of these people to Caspar Correa: they were tall and black, 
with very litde on, and "from the time that they are born they 
neither cut nor comb their hair, which becomes like a cap of 
matted wool, and they carry oiled and pointed sticks thrust 
into it with which they scratch the lice underneath, because 
their fingers cannot reach the scalp, and their sole occupation," 
concludes our writer tersely, "is scratching their heads." 

These unprepossessing persons told Matthew that the Bahr 
Nagach was two days' journey inland. The Bahr Nagach was 
the Governor who ruled the lands by the seacoast for Prester 
John. A letter was dispatched immediately, informing him of 
Matthew's arrival with the Portuguese. The Bahr Nagach 
replied at once he would be coming very soon. Meanwhile 
the local chieftain of Arkfko, wearing a burnous draped over 
a Moorish shirt, rode up to pay his respects to the visitors. 

Confidence being restored, the mainland woke to life. Some 
seven monks appeared upon the scene. "Black and thin/* they 
were, according to description, "decent men and of few 
words." But they said sufficient to express their joy. They 
came from the monastery of Bizan, several days* journey in- 
land. The news of the arrival of a Christian fleet had filled 
them with such happiness that, breaking their custom, they 
had travelled during Holy Week. 

The worthy men were greeted with an enthusiasm equal 
to their own. There were congratulations and rejoicings aH 

64 



The Improvised Embassy 

round. Portugal and Abyssinia wept on each other's necks, 
for, says the chronicler, "no one could restrain his tears at the 



tion, customs, and religious rites, should yet be joined in ties 
of spiritual brotherhood by the sign of the cross, which filled 
them thus with faith and love and charity." 

Wiping their eyes, they adjourned to the abandoned 
mosque of Massawa. This edifice was consecrated, and Portu- 
guese and Abyssinians celebrated a thanksgiving Mass. 

With all this poor Matthew came into his own. Those who 
still persisted in believing that he was an impostor could now 
observe that to these people he was a great man. The ruler of 
Arkiko and the monks had greeted him with deepest rever- 
ence, kissing first his hand and then his shoulder as a token 
of respect. The Bahr Nagach, when he appeared, embraced 
him cordially, and they talked long together. Everyone was 
properly impressed. "Now all could see," says Father Fran- 
cisco triumphantly, "that Matthew was a real ambassador.'' 
We wonder why they had been so hard to convince. At any 
rate, they seem to have been glad to find themselves mistaken, 
and beamed at Matthew benignly while tears of joy were 
trickling down his beard. These were emotional half-hours. 

The Bahr Nagach, it must be owned, was not an espe- 
cially imposing figure: "Badly dressed," observes Caspar Cor- 
rea, as were also the two thousand men who f oflowed him* 
Matthew, no doubt, looked splendid in comparison, for he 
had *noble clothes which he had brought from Portugal." 
That was five years ago, but materials were more lasting in 
that age and clothes remained "noble" longer than they do 
today! 

Diogo Lopes had pitched a lordly tent upon the beach in 
which to meet his Abyssinian colleague, but the shy Ethio- 
pian would not venture in, so the interview had to take place 
outside. It went off very well. Each sitting on his carpet spread 
upon the ground^ Diogo Lopes and the Bahr N 

65 



The Land of Prester John 

changed compliments. Diogo Lopes spoke fluent Arabic. The 
Bahr Nagach was pleasant and polite. Everyone expressed 
appropriate sentiments about this happy meeting, and, each 
in the name of his own country, the two principals swore 
everlasting friendship on the cross. All the cannon of the fleet 
then fired a joyous salvo, which might have caused a very 
serious incident. A projectile fell right among the Abyssinians, 
ricocheting three times. Diogo Lopes, much alarmed, apolo- 
gized profusely, but fortunately no one had been hurt, and 
the Bahr Nagach was not at all perturbed Safety, said he de- 
voutly, depended solely on the will of God. There was a little 
more amicable conversation, and the party broke up "be- 
cause the heat was such that they could do nothing else." 

All felt that the intercourse with Prester John had made a 
good beginning, and it seemed a pity not to follow it up. 
Diogo Lopes held rapid consultation with his captains. Now 
that Mattihew would be really going home, an ambassador 
ought to be sent with him. Everybody volunteered for this 
exciting post, and so the embassy was quickly organized. 

Dom Rodrigo de Lima would take Duarte Galvao's place, 
with Jorge de Abreu as second fiddle. Joao Escolar would be 
secretary and Joao Gon$alves treasurer to the party. A physi- 
cian, Mestre Joao, was to accompany the delegation, and the 
arts were represented by Lazaro de Andrade, "a good 
painter,** Manuel de Mares, an organist who carried several 
instruments with him, and Estevao Palhares, a skilful fencer, 
besides sundry other craftsmen and mechanics. Needless to 
say. Padre Francisco Alvares was chaplain and much to the 
fore. TDom Rodrigo,** said the Governor, *1 am not sending 
Padre Francisco Alvares with you, but you with him!** 

Having improvised an embassy, it was further necessary 
to raise a present, and to this end they combed the fleet. As a 
result there were collected four pieces of Flemish tapestry, a 
sword with golden hilt, a gold-embellished dagger, some 
crimson velvet cuirasses, a helmet, and, not to forget the Em- 
peror's education, "a mappamundi, for Prester John to under- 

66 



The Improvised 'Embassy 

stand the roundness of the earth." Certainly, as Padre Fran- 
cisco has remarked, this present "was not so good as that 
which the King had sent out with Duarte Galvao," but that 
one was "already ruined at Cochin through Lopo Scares." It 
would not do to explain this to Prester John. Dom Rodrigo 
was to tell him that the worthier offering had been on board 
the ship Santo Antonio, which had sunk between Aden and 
the Straits; but Dom Manuel would send another gift next 
year. Meanwhile, "You will present these things to him as 
from me/ 7 writes the Governor in Dom Rodrigo's regimento 
(paper of instructions, "and tell him that I send them as a 
token that I am his servant, and that which the King was 
sending him will follow next year.** 

Diogo Lopes seems a trifle apprehensive lest Dom Rodrigo 
might be tackled on a subject still more awkward to explain, 
"If, on arrival, Prester John's ambassador's should complain 
that he was not treated and honoured here as became an en- 
voy from so great a prince, you will say that it was owing to 
certain doubts and intrigues sown by the Devil; but all is to 
be amended, if it please Our Lord," 

Having conveniently shelved this responsibility upon tibe 
enemy of all mankind, Diogo Lopes bade the embassy fare- 
well on April 30. The Bahr Nagach provided mules and 
camels, and so the party struck inland, on the road to Asmara. 

The Bahr Nagach was to have been their guide, but Mat- 
thew had his own idea in mind. Matthew was very happy, 
not to say above himself. His long exile was ended, his char- 
acter was cleared, everyone deferred to him, and he was go- 
ing home! He meant to get there by the route he chose, and 
that was via Bizan. He had left most of his belongings at the 
monastery of Bizan, it appears. The Bahr Nagach objected 
that Bizan was out of the way, but Matthew did not care. 
Neither did the Bahr Nagach! He parted from the delegation 
and continued his own road. 

Matthew declared that he knew the country better than 
anyone else and they must follow him. He was quite rude to 

67 



The Land of Prcster John 

the Bahr Nagach's brother-in-law, a pleasant youth who met 
the travellers shortly afterwards and offered courteously to 
put them on their way. Forging ahead, the Armenian led 
them by breakneck goat-tracks across "diabolical mountains 
and forests" where nobody could ride. The sun blazed, the 
scorched rocks burned, the camels shrieked "as though they 
were possessed." 'Truly," exclaims Francisco Alvares, "devils 
walked at midday in those woods, where wild beasts 
abounded/* So they stumbled on through a fantastic inferno, 
along a path that they feared would not lead anywhere. 

After three days, when the travellers felt quite certain that 
they were lost, signs of human life appeared at last. Herds of 
goats and cows roamed the mountain-side, led by men so 
scantily attired that "there was little of them that could not 
be seen." The women, Padre Francisco notes with some re- 
lief, "were better covered, but not much." All these people 
were "very black and Christian." 

Some monks appeared likewise. They were very old, and as 
thin as sticks, wherefore, Padre Francisco says ambiguously, 
"at first sight they seem to be of holy life." They came from the 
little convent of St. Michael, not far from Bizan. There the 
travellers were lodged, and one by one they all fell ill, begin- 
ning with the doctor. Mestre Joao, however, was a competent 
physician. Nothing dismayed, he "bled and purged himself, 
and so got well and then attended to the others." 

Matthew, who ought to have been accustomed to tibe cli- 
mate, was as ill as anybody else. Mestre Joao treated him 
successfully, and all might have been well, but as soon as he 
felt better the patient insisted upon packing up and moving 
on. No one could have restrained him, for Matthew "was very 
fond of his own way," says his father confessor. The conse- 
quence was what might be expected. He had not been gone 
long before an urgent message summoned Mestre Joao and 
the chaplain to his side. They found him dying half-way be- 
tween St. Michael and Bizan. It was too late for the physician 
to do anything, but Padre Francisco heard his last confession 

68 



The Improvised Embassy 

and wrote the Portuguese translation of his will. Queen 
Helena was to inherit all that he possessed. In this manner, 
upon May 23, the first ambassador from Prester John passed 
out. 

Poor Matthew, with his changing moods, his caprice and 
his temper, his bursts of piety and penitence, his uncertain 
matrimonial state, the very certain love he bore his young 
companion Jacob, the tribulations of his Odyssey, and tragic 
death when he was nearly home, remains a pathetic and in- 
triguing figure to the last. He met with much injustice and 
misunderstanding, yet we feel that he brought some of it 
upon himself. He was certainly a most peculiar person. If we 
knew more about his origin and antecedents it might be easier 
to make him out. As it is, he stands as an enigma on the page 
of history an enigma to which Francisco Alvares alone 
possessed the key, but that was under the seal of the con- 
fessional, and so he has not passed it on. 

Matthew was buried at the monastery' with every honour, 
and the embassy remained a few weeks longer at Bizan. For 
some reason the monks appeared annoyed that they should 
leave at all and did eveiyihing they could to hinder their de- 
parture. In spite of obstructions, however, the party got away 
on June 18. Father Francisco, if no one else, had passed an 
interesting month at this religious house, and has much to 
write about its rules and observations. "Some of these friars 
are very good, devout, and honourable others are not so** is 
his final verdict on his African colleagues. 

More precipitous paths up rocky mountains, and the ex- 
pedition found itself on a high tableland. The soil seemed 
fertile here, "with cultivated fields, and others lying fallow as 
in Portugal," the travellers observed approvingly. 

They were now at Debaroa, capital of the province ruled 
by the Bahr Nagach. This gentleman had been all smiles to 
Diogo Lopes de Sequeira; but Diogo Lopes had had armed 
troops at his side, cannon that thundered from the sea, and a 
great fleet swinging at anchor off the shore. To twelve or four- 



The Land of Prester John 

teen lonely foreigners completely cut off from their kind he 
did not think it necessary to be so pleasant. The Bahr Nagach 
was not sure he approved of foreigners; at any rate he did not 
see why he should be the one to put them up! When the Portu- 
guese arrived at Debaroa, he inhospitably withdrew to the 
neighbouring village of Addi Baro. 

Dom Rodrigo followed him there. He needed beasts of bur- 
den and he needed guides. Matthew was no longer there to 
help the party, and it was difficult to wander across Abys- 
sinia unaccompanied by anyone who knew the ropes. Accord- 
ingly, Dom Rodrigo with the chaplain and a few others, when 
they had said their prayers at the Addi Baro church, pre- 
sented themselves at the ruler's palace "We thought that he 
would speak to us at once" but they were told that the great 
man was asleep. As far as Dom Rodrigo was concerned, he 
did not wake that day, and the ambassador with his com- 
panions were packed into a goat-pen for the night. "We could 
only just squeeze into it," Padre Francisco says. 

Next morning found them once again outside the not very 
palatial palace. It was a one-storeyed building consisting of 
a number of rooms opening into one another which rooms, 
the observing eye of Father Francisco did not fail to note, 
"were very seldom swept.** At the entrance of the house three 
porters barred the way. They would not let the strangers pass 
without exacting a tip, and the gratification they desired 
was pepper! 

We are not told if Dom Rodrigo went about with pepper in 
his pocket, but somehow they got through, only to be held 
up by three more porters with whips. Mopping their brows, 
they waited half an hour, and "it was hot enough to kffl us.** 

Dom Rodrigo's patience began to wear thin. Were they to 
be admitted or were they not? he asked the porter, because 
if not, he would go. The porter took the message and returned 
to say that they might come in. 

The Bahr Nagach sat on a couch, ^draped with poor cur- 
tains," and his \rae sat by his side. They could see that he was 

70 




MAP OF ABYSSINIA SHOWING ITINERARIES OF DOM 
CRISTOVAO DA GAMA AND DOM RODRIGO DE LINiA 



The Improvised Embassy 

suffering from eye disease. Anxious to make himself agree- 
able, Dom Rodrigo offered the assistance of his doctor, but 
"I have no need of him/* the Bahr Nagach replied ungra- 
ciously. 

Could he provide oxen and asses for their journey, Dom 
Rodrigo asked, and mules for them to ride? Oxen and asses, 
yes, said the Ethiopian, but no mules. These must be bought 

At the conclusion of a rather chilling interview the visitors 
were led into an outer room. There it seemed that they were 
to be refreshed before departing. Straw mats were laid for 
them to sit upon the floor, a horn of honey wine was brought, 
and a large basin of food. This contained an uncooked paste 
of roasted barley flour and water. 

Dom Rodrigo and his comrades gazed upon this chicken- 
feed with feelings of dismay. The more they looked at it, the 
more their courage failed. No one could bring himself to eat 
the stuff, and so the feast was left untasted. 

But they were not suffered to escape so easily. The Bahr 
Nagach might be indifferent whether his guests ate or not, 
but his mother took it very much to heart. The lady felt that 
her housekeeping was slighted, and she sent more food after 
the departing strangers. Five large wheaten loaves, another 
horn of honey wine, and some more of that sticky concoction 
which had defeated them before. Good manners left no loop- 
hole this time. They set their faces and they ate it up. 

Debaroa proved no easy place to leave. The Bahr Nagach 
was anything but helpful, and beasts and carriers were diffi- 
cult to find. The latter would load up and progress for a few 
leagues, after which they dumped their burdens by the way- 
side, declaring that they could go no farther and must be 
relayed. Others never appeared available, and the baggage 
was thus left in the rain for the rains were starting by that 
time, which added not a little to the complications. 

The Bahr Nagach when they could get hold of him, 
which was not often would promise anything and then dis- 
miss the matter from his mind. Clearly, he did not wish to be 

71 



The Land of Prester John 

bothered with the embassy. He had a war with certain neigh- 
bouring tribes, and that was what preoccupied him* He was 
short of armaments, he said to Dom Rodrigo; would the latter 
oblige him with some swords? 

Dom Rodrigo gave him "a very good sword" that he was 
wearing for the journey, but the Abyssinian was not satisfied. 
He wanted Dom Rodrigo's other sword as well, he said the 
beautiful one with an ornamental hilt. Dom Rodrigo did not 
wish to part with his best sword. He bought a handsome 
gilded sabre from a member of his staff and gave that to the 
Bahr Nagach instead. It seems that even that was not enough, 
for the following night "two swords and a helmet were stolen 
from the house in which the Portuguese slept,** 

In the end sufficient mules were found, and the Bahr 
Nagach gave them three camels, so they got away. The rains 
had really set in by then, which made it most imprudent to 
proceed. "They never travel at that season," observes Padre 
Francisco, "but we hurried off, not knowing the country or 
the risk that we incurred.'* 

In spite of everything they struggled on, out of the lands of 
the Bahr Nagach into the mountains of Tigre. It was a strange 
region that the travellers were now traversing vertical peaks 
all round, rising to meet the sky, and on every mountain-top 
a hermitage hung like an eagle's nest on rocks which it seemed 
no human foot could climb. Below the mountains ruins: 
stone churches a thousand years old, vast systems of irriga- 
tion works, remains of Greeks and Romans scattered among 
monuments more ancient still where Sabaeans had wor- 
shipped the sun before the Christian era. 

Not only the aspect of the scenery changed as they pro- 
gressed inland, but the people began to be different, in cos- 
tume and every other way. Costume is hardly the word to 
apply to anything so negative as our writer describes. The 
women dressed in beads and little else. In Portugal and 
Spain," observes Father Francisco, "men many for love of a 

72 



The Improvised Embassy 

pretty face tibe rest is hidden. No such mystery" he adds, 
attends an Abyssinian "bride." 

The reception which the travellers met varied from one vil- 
lage to another. Some places pelted them with stones, others 
refused to sell them food; but the nuns of Farso welcomed 
them with almost disconcerting veneration. These were saintly 
pilgrims from Jerusalem, declared the pious ladies. To ac- 
quire merit for themselves, they washed the strangers* feet, 
drinking the water afterwards and bathing their own faces 
in it! 

The Governor of Tigre showed himself more friendly and 
hospitable than had the Bahr Xagach. He provided the em- 
bassy with guides and an escort numbering five hundred men. 
The handling of the baggage, however, seems still to have 
been inefficient. As they travelled towards the mountains of 
Bernacel, the party was dismayed to find their packs, which 
had gone on ahead, embedded in the middle of a flooded 
field. 

As they paused, debating how to extricate their property, 
some men on muleback were seen approaching from afar. 
One of the riders made straight for the chief man of the 
Abyssinian escort, seized his bridle-rein, and began belabour- 
ing him with a big stick Dom Rodrigo rushed to the rescue, 
and the aggressor would have been dispatched if Jorge de 
Abreu had not caught some words that he cried out in broken 
Italian. Explanations followed. This was no brigand after afl, 
but a highly respectable if impetuous monk, by the name of 
Saga Zaab. The Emperor had sent him to meet the visitors 
and help them on their way. When he saw the mess that Dom 
Rodrigo's guide had made, he had been moved to wrath. 

Saga Zaab provided them with more mules and camels, and 
he accompanied Doin Rodrigo's party to their journey's en<L 
he proved a useful help, but Dom Rodrigo objected to his 
system of spending every night upon a mountain-top. It was 
uohealthfui down below, insisted Saga Zaab. That, said Dom 

73 



The Land of Prcster John 

Rodrigo, did not matter. Saga Zaab could climb up if he 
liked, but they would not trouble to follow him. So the Abys- 
sinian perched aloft while the Portuguese pitched their tents 
in the plain. 

The chiefs that they met upon the way were mostly pleas- 
ant. The Ras of Angote, an important personage, gave them a 
very honourable reception which "consisted principally of 
drinks," Padre Francisco says. They found the Ras sitting with 
four large jugs of wine at hand and a crystal goblet standing by 
each jug. From these he urged his guests to drink, and go on 
drinking until all were empty. Happily for them, he also did 
his bit, and his wife with two lady friends was not left far 
behind. When the liquid gave out at last, the Ras called for 
more. But the sober Portuguese were horrified at the prospect 
of further libations. Dom Rodrigo invented an excuse, and so 
they got away. 

They were invited to a Sunday dinner after church next 
day. Dom Rodrigo accepted, but feeling unequal to face 
Abyssinian cooking, brought his own meal with him, which 
unusual procedure apparently gave no offence. Padre Fran- 
cisco has described the party, which seems to have been a 
success. 

All sat upon the floor on mats around two large trays that 
served as tables, the Ras in the middle of his guests, his lady 
modestly screened by a curtain farther off. **Water was 
brought and we washed our hands, but no towel came to wipe 
them, neither was there any tablecloth.** The Portuguese said 
grace, which struck the Abyssinians as a pleasing custom, and 
then the feast began. Bread was placed upon the board, and 
on every piece of bread were slices of raw meat, which the 
Ras consumed with evident enjoyment while his guests looked 
on amazed. Three dishes of black earthenware also appeared, 
containing each a kind of soup, or stew, made up, it seems, of 
cow-dung and gall, with bits of bread and butter floating on 
the top. The shuddering Europeans all decided that "we 
could not eat such potage." They turned thankfully to the 

74 



The Improvised Embassy 

"good roast chickens and boiled beef which Dom Rodrigo 
had provided. He offered some of these to his hostess, but if 
the lady ate or not behind her curtain nobody could see. "She 
helped well with the drinks, however," the chaplain remarked. 
Bidding farewell to this convivial pair, our travellers went 
on. Already they were in the province of Amhara and ap- 
proaching their journey's end. It had been a full five months* 
steady going across this strange townless kingdom of rich 
churches and poor villages, of barren rocks and cultivated 
fields, of mountains and of ruins five months* perpetual 
moving on through heat and cold, through flood and drought, 
from airy height to stifling hollow, from panther-haunted jun- 
gle into desert, and from desert into populated tableland. The 
day's march, a halt for the night, and on again next day it 
had all grown to seem part of the unchanging scheme of life 
when at last, on October 10, they sighted far away the tents 
of Prester John. 



75 




Prester John at Last! | ^s><^ 



Ifg& 




Prester John lived in a tent. Throughout the vastness of his 
empire he had no fixed abode, but perambulated his nomadic 
court according to the exigencies of politics or war, Lebna 
Dengel Dawit was this young ruler's name as it figures in 
Ethiopian chronicles, but his Portuguese contemporaries sim- 
plified it to David. As for the fancy title bestowed on him by 
European imagination, that died hard. "The Moors and Abys- 
sinians call him Emperor and not Prester John . , /* Albu- 
querque seems to have been the first person to take note of 
this fact, but Moors and Abyssinians notwithstanding, to the 
Portuguese he had always been Prester John, and Prester John 
He would remain to the end. 

The Emperor at this time was some twenty years of age. 
Old Queen Helena's tutelage was a thing of die past. The 
dowager still lived at court, but in retirement. Young David, 
like his namesake and alleged ancestor, had embarked early 
on a military career. Abyssinia, with the independent Mos- 
lem tribes of Adel and Harrar seething about her southern 
frontiers, needed a warrior king, Lebna Dengel at the age of 
seventeen had buckled on his sword. He had met the famous 
Emir Mahfuzh on the plains near Zeila. There the terror of 
Ethiopia lost the battle and his head, which gory trophy the 
young champion bore away, as well as the green standard and 

76 



Pr ester John at Last! 

velvet tent presented to the Emir by the Sheriff of Mecca. 
This victory had placed Abyssinia in a strong position much 
stronger than at the time when Queen Helena had written her 
letter to Dom Manuel. The arrival of an embassy from Portu- 
gal therefore caused less excitement than it would have done 
a few years before. 

This does not mean that Dom Rodrigo was not courteously 
received. The Emperor sent along one of his lords to welcome 
and accommodate his guests. He also offered for their use a 
splendid tent one of his own, they were informed, and of a 
type reserved for royalty. He further sent them veal pasties 
and cows and honey wine, all of which things were pleasant; 
but what seems to have upset Dom Rodrigo w r as a message 
that they were at liberty to purchase merchandise and sell 
their wares. This base insinuation was too much for a fidalgo's 
pride. What did the Emperor take him for? Neither he nor 
his father, nor his mother, nor any of his ancestors, said Dom 
Rodrigo loftily, nor those of the other gentlemen who came 
with him had ever bought or sold! He was amazed that such 
a thing should be suggested! It is doubtful, however, whether 
Lebna Dengel could appreciate the importance of this point 
or understand the aristocratic prejudices of the West 

His own pride was made manifest in dignified delay. To 
grant an early audience to a foreign embassy was not con- 
sonant with his greatness. What most interested him about 
them was the present which he hoped that they had brought 
From Matthew's passage at Dahlak in 1517 the news had per- 
colated into Abyssinia that a magnificent gift was on the way, 
The Emperor accordingly sent word to Dom Rodrigo that it 
was his gracious pleasure to receive the offering. 

It was sad that reality should fall so short of expectation. 
Dom Rodrigo laid out what he had as best he could. He added 
to it four bales of pepper, a commodity as highly prized in 
Abyssinia as it was in Europe of that day, but even so the 
effect was not rich. Such as they were, the modest gifts were 
carried pompously into the Emperor's white and purple camp, 

77 



The Land of Prester John 

while a hundred court officials marched before, scattering the 
crowd by means of leather thongs. 

The whole performance was not unlike a circus. A double 
row of arches, swathed alternately in white and purple cot- 
ton cloth, led up to the imperial tent, and a squadron of two 
thousand men was lined up on either side. Before the arches 
sat four mounted guards on steeds caparisoned in silk bro- 
cade. In front of these horsemen, two on either side, were four 
chained lions. Lake Christian into Palace Beautiful, the dele- 
gates walked up between the lions. 

The gifts were taken in to Prester John, but the ambassador 
was not admitted to the presence. When the offerings had 
passed before the regal eye, they were brought out again and 
spread upon the arches for the populace to see. The Chief 
Justice of the realm got up and made a speech: God should be 
praised, said he, for having brought about this happy meet- 
ing among Christians. Anybody who felt otherwise might 
weep; those who rejoiced could sing! At this the listening 
crowd politely bellowed its delight 

Dora Rodrigo hoped for an audience the next day, but he 
was disappointed. The fact was that Prester John thought 
nothing of their present He wanted more and did not hesi- 
tate to say so. Would they hand over all the pepper that they 
had? This Dom Rodrigo was very loath to do. There was no 
currency in Abyssinia and spices served instead; still, as the 
Emperor was insistent, he surrendered most of his supply. 
Further to gratify their host, they decided to give him four of 
their travelling-chests, because "it seemed ter us that he would 
be pleased with them, and we should find favour in his sight" 

Lebna Dengel was not happy yet There was something 
else for which he yearned, and since it was not offered him he 
asked for it A messenger arrived at Dom Rodrigo's tent to 
say that the Emperor would like to have a pair of breeches! 

Dom Rodrigo sacrificed at once one of his own, and an- 
other member of his staff produced a second pair. Their 

78 



Prcstcr John at Last! 

breeches and all other things, said the ambassador politely, 
were at the disposal of Prester John. 

But neither Dom Rodrigo s breeches, nor yet the attractive 
little leather trunks, nor all the pepper they had given him 
brought Lebna Dengel to the point. The delegates waited 
impatiently and in some apprehension. Would they be per- 
mitted to deliver their message and depart? None of their 
predecessors at the Abyssinian court had got away. If for- 
eigners would seek them out, said the Ethiopians, they should 
remain in Abyssinia altogether! Returning travellers might go 
about spreading evil reports. They seem to have held a pessi- 
mistic view of the impression that their country made upon 
outsiders and to have been sensitive about it. 

It was not from Pero da Covilham that Dom Rodrigo heard 
all this the former was resident on his estates andliad not 
yet appeared. His informants were a number of Europeans 
discovered stranded at the Abyssinian court: two Catalans, a 
Biscayan, a German, a Greek from Chios, and eleven Genoese. 
All of these men, escaped from Turkish prisons some after 
forty years* captivity had strange adventures to relate. Un- 
happily for our curiosity, adventures were at a discount in 
those days. So many lives were like a serial in the Boys 9 Own 
Paper that sensational experiences of private persons were 
scarcely considered worthy of record. All that we know of 
this particular group of adventurers is that most of them had 
been confined at Jidda at the time that Lopo Soares passed in 
1517. When, to their sorrow, he sailed away without rescuing 
them they had seized a boat and managed to escape. Finding 
it impossible to overtake the fleet, they had made for Mas- 
sawa, whence they went on to Abyssinia. There Dom Rodrigo 
and his party found them very much at home. TTiey all had 
learned the language, some of them were married, and Padre 
Francisco Alvares baptized the half-caste infant of a Genoese. 
As, beyond their knowledge of Amharic, all these men spoke 
Portuguese, which in those days was a widespread universal 

79 



The Land of Prester John 

tongue, it may be easily imagined what a blessing they were 
to the newcomers. All sorts of information was supplied by 
them, including the disquieting item that his counsellors were 
advising the Emperor to detain the Portuguese indefinitely. 

The suspense was rather trying, the more so that they had 
several false alarms. One morning at about three a.m. the dele- 
gation's cicerone, Saga Zaab, rushed up excitedly. The Em- 
peror wished to speak to them at once! All hastened to get 
ready, and they had just arrayed themselves in their most 
splendid clothes when a second messenger appeared to say 
that the monarch had changed his mind. "We were as sad as 
the peacock who, having spread his tail, had to close it again/* 
chuckles Padre Francisco, whom nature had blessed with a 
sense of humour. 

Another night Prester John's habits were apparently noc- 
turnal a second summons came. They had to wait outside 
the tent an hour in the teeth of a bitter wind, but this time 
their best clothes were not put on wholly in vain. Between 
rows of lighted candles they were led through a series of 
tents, loudly announced in every one. At last they reached the 
inner sanctuary, carpeted and hung with rich embroidered 
cloths. Here they were brought, not before the Emperor, but 
before the gorgeous curtains behind which he sat! The inter- 
view was with an unseen presence, and carried on by mes- 
sengers that came and went behind the veil. The elusive 
Prester John, now run to earth, was no more than a voice a 
voice that demanded without any preamble where was the 
present which Matthew had announced? 

Clearly the ambassador was suspected of misappropria- 
tion. Dom Rodrigo explained all that he could. Everything 
that he had to give, he said, already had been given, and some 
more. Dom ManueTs present was at Cochin, waiting to be 
sent Dom Rodrigo had only come on a friendly visit and to 
find out the way. A more official embassy would no doubt fol- 
low. But Lebna Dengel seems to have remained suspicious 
and postponed receiving them in solemn audience* 

80 



Pr ester John at Last! 

Meanwhile messages came and returned, and it was all 
question and answer. The delegates were getting quite ac- 
customed to this. Since their arrival at the Abyssinian court 
they had been subjected to repeated and searching question- 
naires about the Portuguese in general and themselves in par- 
ticular, their firearms and their fortresses, their allies and their 
King was the latter married, by the way, and to how many 
wives? The Emperor also wished for more details about Dom 
Manuel and his Queen, how old their children were, and how 
they took their meals, and where they lived. How many were 
the Portuguese? What was the size of Portugal? How many 
fortresses had they in India, and what did they pay their 
men? How many arquebuses had Dom Rodrigo brought with 
him? Who taught the Moors and Turks to manufacture artil- 
lery; and, finally, which feared the other most, the Moors or 
the Portuguese? The Portuguese, Dom Rodrigo assured him, 
were not afraid of Moors; but he piously gave the true faith 
all credit for that fact. As to how the Turks had learned to 
use gunpowder though their spiritual perceptions might be 
dim, still they were men and they had understanding which 
permitted them to find out such things for themselves. 

Firearms interested Lebna Dengel. He made the delegates 
bring along their arquebuses and fire a discharge for his bene- 
fit He must have had a peephole in his curtain, for he further 
wished to see them use their swords; whereupon Dom Ro- 
drigo de Lima and Jorge de Abreu, who were the two most 
skilled performers, fenced together in great style. 

Prester John seemed anxious to put his guests through all 
their paces. He demanded next that they should dance and 
sing a request that might be disconcerting to a modern 
diplomat, but these belonged to a less self-conscious genera- 
tion. Without turning a hair, the delegates treated the Negus 
to an exhibition of their graceful movements and the beauty 
of their voices. 

Having examined the strangers* mundane accomplish- 
ments, the Emperor satisfied himself as to their religious 

81 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

orthodoxy. His royal brother, Dom Manuel, had done exactly 
the same thing when visited by Matthew. In matters concern- 
ing the faith, both monarchs felt that one could not make too 
sure, Matthew, while in Portugal, had been subjected to a 
minute catechism on the subject of his beliefs. In Abyssinia, 
Padre Francisco Alvares, representing the religion of the dele- 
gation, was sounded no less carefully. Not for nothing had 
Lebna Dengel Dawit been brought up by the learned Queen 
Helena. At his hands Father Francisco underwent a stiff theo- 
logical examination that was continued and repeated during 
many interviews. It seems that the examiner could have car- 
ried on indefinitely; not so the unhappy examinee. On one 
occasion the latter had to beg "His Highness to have pity on 
an old man who had neither eaten nor drunk nor slept since 
noon the day before" (it was already about three o'clock). 
"He asked me why, since he enjoyed talking to me, I did not 
enjoy it too. I answered that hunger, weakness, and old age 
did not allow me. Reluctantly the Emperor gave him leave 
to go and dine, but as he went a messenger came running after 
him. A new and lighter subject of curiosity had seized Lebna 
Dengel might he have Padre Francisco's hat to look at? He 
would return it soon. Padre Francisco surrendered his hat 
and got away in peace. He reached his tent in a fainting con- 
dition, but was summoned back again after an hour and a half. 
Padre Francisco acquitted himself of these successive or- 
deals with much credit He held forth upon the doctrines of 
the Church, the rites and festivals that she celebrates; and he 
explained to everybody's satisfaction the symbolic meaning of 
the vestments that he wore. What he seems to have found the 
most trying was his examiner's demand for exact figures at 
all times. How many, and how much? seem to have been 
favourite phrases with Lebna Dengel. How many prophets 
were there all together? he inquired. How many foretold the 
coming of Our Lord, and how many books did each one write? 
How many books did St. Paul write, and the Evangelists? 
Padre Francisco pleaded that he had been travelling for six 

82 



Pr ester John at Last! 

years and some of these figures had escaped his memory, so 
though he answered everything, he did not vouch for the ac- 
curacy of his replies. How many books were in the Bible 
all together? the curtained inquisitor demanded next. Padre 
Francisco boldly guessed that there were eighty-one, and was 
congratulated upon his good memory. He was really cor- 
nered, however, when asked at what date to celebrate the fes- 
tival of St. Baralara. "I was," said he, "distressed." After 
searching through every calendar available, he found one 
which included this exotic saint, and never went to court 
again without that priceless work of reference to consult. 

The divergencies between the Church of Rome and that of 
Abyssinia were also discussed. Did members of the Latin 
Church obey the Pope in everything? Lebna Dengel asked, 
and Father Francisco assured 'him mat invariably they did. 
Suppose the Pope ordained something unscriptural what 
then? young David inquired. If their Coptic Patriarch did 
so, he added, the Ethiopian would throw the edict in the fire! 

Such a case, Padre Francisco answered with conviction, 
could never occur. The Pope being the Holy Father, his man- 
dates could never be in opposition to Holy Writ On the con- 
trary, it was the Scriptures that inspired them all. Moreover, 
he was guided in his decisions by the counsel of doctors, cardi- 
nals, archbishops, and bishops, who were enlightened upon 
these matters by the Holy Ghost. Such learned persons, he 
added, were sadly lacking in Ethiopia! 

The cross-questioning does not appear to have included any 
definitions of the Trinity. Had it done so, examiner and exami- 
nee might have found themselves more seriously at variance. 
But it seems that this question was not raised, and the fun- 
damental difference between the Roman and the Coptic 
Churches thus passed unnoticed. As it was, the doctrinal dis- 
cussions only helped to build mutual esteem. Francisco 
Alvares concluded that tibe Abyssinian Church, though igno- 
rant, was devout, while Lebna Dengel pronounced the Por- 
tuguese religion to be sound. A spirit of mutual tolerance pre- 
83 



The Land of Prester John 

vailed which would have been almost impossible a few 
decades later on when the generation of churchmen reared 
in the shadow of the Inquisition had grown up. Thus, when 
the Portuguese were asked by the Ethiopians which was the 
better of the two, the Roman or the Coptic Mass, "we an- 
swered that both were good, since both were to one end, and 
God was willing to be served in many different ways.** In the 
same spirit, though Father Francisco was a little startled to 
behold his Ethiopian colleagues "leaping, dancing, and hop- 
ping" about the church, when called upon for his opinion he 
declared that "all was well since it was done to the glory of 
God"! 

With all this, the embassy had only once seen Prester John. 
Invisibility was part of the royal prestige in Abyssinia. The 
Emperor showed himself to his people three times a year at 
Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. On every other occasion 
curtains veiled him from all except the favoured few. Dom 
Rodrigo and his companions were vouchsafed this privilege 
when the Emperor gave official audience to the embassy. 

It was again at night, and preceded by a very long and very 
chilly wait ""three hours at the door, where it was very cold 
and dark." It must be remembered that these were high alti- 
tudes. 

At last they walked up between the usual row of bright illu- 
minations towards a kind of stage from which a pair of gor- 
geous curtains were drawn apart. There, raised aloft "after the 
manner in which God the Father is represented on wall paint- 
ings, 7 * sat Prester John upon a platform six steps high. His 
person was richly adorned. A tall crown of gold and silver 
was upon his head, in his hand he grasped a silver cross, and 
before his face was held a blue taffeta veil, concealing it up 
to the nose. Every now and then this veil was lowered, reveal- 
ing his whole face. He wore a long brocaded robe and silken 
shirt with ample sleeves, while over his knees was draped a 
doth of gold. **In age, complexion, and stature he is a young 
man, not very black, but chestnut or the colour of a russet 

84 



Prester John at Last! 

apple. Good-looking, of medium height, a round face, large 
eyes, and a high-bridged nose. His beard is beginning to 
grow. . . .** 

The delegates made deep obeisance, touching the ground 
with their right hands as they had been instructed was good 
form. Dom Rodrigo delivered the Governor's letter, of which 
an Amharic translation had been made. Lebna Dengel 
glanced through it rapidly. Why had not the King written 
himself? he asked. He was" told that Dom Manuel's letter had 
been lost in 1517, which it seems was the truth. A few com- 
pliments were exchanged. Prester John said that he would 
be delighted for the Portuguese to build fortresses at Massawa 
and Sualdn, for which he promised to supply provisions. He 
further invited them to capture Zeila. That, Dom Rodrigo 
said, would be an easy thing to do. Where the King of Por- 
tugal sent his navies in force, the Moors fled from their very 
shadow! He also suggested that he himself might be captain 
of the fortress at Massawa, And so with pleasant words the 
audience ended. 

It had gone off very well, and there was nothing left to do 
but await the answering letters to carry back. These would 
have to be written in gold lettering, the Emperor said, and 
might take time. This was a pity. Dom Rodrigo expected the 
fleet to be at Massaw r a to fetch him between February and 
April 1521. If the delegation failed to be at Massawa within 
the dates prescribed, they knew that they would not be waited 
for. Any ship lingering in the Red Sea after the end of April 
would have to remain there for three months until the mon- 
soon ceased an eaqperience no commander cared to risk It 
had been tried in 1513 and again in 1517, with terrible mor- 
tality each time. Thus Dom Rodrigo had good reason to urge 
the Emperor for a prompt reply. 



85 



A Prolonged Visit 




Prester John decidedly did not believe in hustle. Dom Ro- 
drigo had to possess his soul in patience and follow the court 
about over the mountains. 

The court of Abyssinia on the move was no ordinary spec- 
tacle. The whole neighbourhood packed up at the same time 
and followed after. The great lords rode while their rich tents 
were carried by a regiment of servants. The poor broke up 
their little shacks and bore them along piecemeal. There were 
men on foot and men on horseback oxen, donkeys, camels, 
all bearing their load. So many people on the march re- 
minded Father Francisco of "a Corpus Christi procession in 
some large town.* 

At the centre, in a space kept dear of the mixed multitude, 
the Emperor rode his mule, A canopy of curtains held aloft 
concealed the sacred form from profane gaze. His four sym- 
bolic lions were led in front, held strongly fettered by a 
numeroua guard. To the rear his carriers bore upon their 
heads a hundred jars of raisin wine and a hundred ornate 
baskets filled with loaves, all to be distributed on the way to 
those whom royalty might delight to honour. 

Thirteen consecrated tents the Emperor's churches fig- 
ured solemnly in the procession. Eight priests were in charge 
of each one, which they carried in relays of four. Two acolytes 

86 



A Prolonged Visit 

walked in front with a cross upheld and censers swinging, 
while they rang a bell. Any who crossed their path had to dis- 
mount and stand aside until the "church" had passed. 

The embassy took part in this impressive exodus. An hon- 
ourable position was assigned the Portuguese, near the Em- 
peror's person. And so they followed him by breakneck 
mountain paths until a lof ty tableland was reached where the 
court camped to celebrate the Christmas festival. 

Pero da Covilham's estates were not far off, and he hastened 
to court to meet his fellow country-men. The old exile must 
have been a most interesting person. He spoke, Padre Fran- 
cisco tells us, every language Christian, Moslem, or heathen 
and he was a perfect mine of information. Unhappily for 
us, Pero da Covilham never troubled to write his reminis- 
cences, and what could have been one of the most exciting 
biographies in history may only be constructed in imagination. 

All the exiled Europeans gathered with the Portuguese on 
Christmas morning to celebrate the festival after the rites 
familiar to their youth. Prester John had given the embassy 
the Emir's captured tent to use as a church. It had been duly 
blessed and exorcized a precaution recommended by Lebna 
Dengel "in case some Moor had sinned within it" and in it 
Padre Francisco said his daily Mass. The Christmas services 
were a success. All musical members of the congregation 
helped. Manuel de Mares presided at the organ ( some kind of 
harmonium, no doubt), while the painter Lazaro de Andrade, 
Mestre Joao the physician, Joao Escolar, secretary of the em- 
bassy, a Genoese, and a Catalan named Nicolas, all sang with 
such effect that "an enraptured Abyssinian priest declared Tie 
thought he was in paradise among the angels." The Emperor 
with his wife and Queen Helena in their tent was also listen- 
ing and admired. Some Abyssinian ceremonies about this sea- 
son were rather startling to the Portuguese. Would they like 
to be baptized? asked the Ethiopians on the eve of the Epiph- 
any. Padre Francisco answered in surprise that all of them 
had been baptized already and once was enough. "Not at all,* 

87 



The Land of Prestcr John 

said the Ethiopians. "We are baptized every year." Padre 
Francisco, interested but a little scandalized, witnessed the 
performance later on. 

If mortification of the flesh can confer merit, there certainly 
was merit here. It was a cold night at these altitudes, with 
frost upon the ground, but the baptisms began at midnight 
in a deep tank filled with water from a mountain stream. In 
the middle of this pool an old priest stood, immersed up to his 
armpits and "dying of cold," Father Francisco observes feel- 
ingly. The Emperor, the royal family, and the Patriarch, each 
clad only in a loincloth, took the plunge first in privacy. The 
penitents of lesser rank came afterwards men and women 
all stark naked. One by one they passed under the priestly 
hands and were made to bow tieir heads beneath the icy 
water. It was broad daylight before the ceremony was over, 
and we are not told whether the officiating priest subsequently 
died of pneumonia. 

**What do you think of it?" asked Lebna Dengel from be- 
hind his screen, and Father Francisco answered that he dis- 
approved. 

"I quite agree with you," said the Abuna the Patriarch of 
Abyssinia to our friend in an aside. Repeated baptisms, in 
his opinion, were unscriptural. But he had no one to support 
him in this view. The Emperor's grandfather had instituted 
the system of annual baptism, and from the highest motives. 
Since men would not refrain from sinning, this monarch felt 
that the cleansing waters should be frequently renewed. So 
many souls, he said devoutly, might otherwise be lost! The 
Patriarch was not quite happy over the innovation, but the 
Emperor had his way. 

Tnis Abuna was named Mark and hailed from Alexandria, 
the headquarters of the Coptic Church, whence came all 
Abyssinia's patriarchs. The post does not appear to have been 
greatly coveted, for each time an Abuna died it was very diffi- 
cult to find him a successor. The Abyssinians were already 
considering what would happen after Mark's demise an 

88 



A Prolonged Visit 

event not likely to be long delayed if, as he told Francisco 
Alvares, he was a hundred and twenty years old! 

Mark was a meek and benevolent old man Tittle and 
bald," and with a beard as white as wool very pleasant in 
his speech. He and Padre Francisco became great friends. On 
their first meeting each had endeavoured to outdo the other in 
reverent courtesy. Padre Francisco tried to kiss the Patriarch's 
hand, which the Abuna did not allow, but would have kissed 
his foreign colleague's foot. In the end they sat down side by 
side and conversed heart to heart. "Did I not tell you," ob- 
served the Patriarch, beaming at Pero da Covilham, "that one 
day you would see your fellow coimtrymen? 7 * 

Pero da Covilham was enjoying their society, and they 
found in him a complete guide to correct behaviour at the 
Abyssinian court. "You must seem more impressed,* 7 he en- 
joined the ambassador. "Admire all that they show you." 

The advice was needed, for the Ethiopians were constantly 
displaying things for Dom Rodrigo's wonder, and Dom Ro- 
drigo did not care to be outdone. "Look at those beautiful 
hangings in our church," they said. "Is there anything in Por- 
tugal to be compared with them?" Certainly there was, said 
the ambassador, they ought to see Batalha. "Behold the trap- 
pings of the Emperor's horser cried someone else ecstatically. 
"Has the King of Portugal harness like that?" Among the ob- 
jects that Duarte Galvao had been bringing for the Emperor, 
Dom Rodrigo answered loftily, were harnesses more beauti- 
ful than those. 

But a point was scored by the Ethiopians when they exhib- 
ited all the state umbrellas, each one of which could have 
sheltered ten men. Did Dom Manuel walk out under such 
parasols? they asked the chaplain, who had to own that Dom 
Manuel did not. But the King had no need of such things, he 
added loyally, for he had many hats! Dom Manuel had, more- 
over, shady gardens in which to stroll when the sun was op- 
pressive. 

It might perhaps have been more tactful not to lay too 

89 



The Land of Prester John 

much stress upon the glory and riches of Europe, for, observed 
the Ethiopians gloomily, the present which Dom Rodrigo 
brought had not been much. Dom Rodrigo was getting tired 
of having that unhappy present thrown into his teeth. 

The King of Portugal, he declared, did not give presents 
he received them! A! tie kings of Asia sent him gifts. Now 
and then he might offer something to a friend, not as a matter 
of custom, but as a special token of regard. Prester John had 
been one of those favoured few. If a series of unfortunate ac- 
cidents had prevented the delivery of the present, that could 
not be helped. Besides, all this giving of gifts was not a Euro- 
pean custom. Equipped just as they were, Dom Rodrigo and 
his suite could have presented themselves before any king! 
They had acquitted themselves of their mission. Why did not 
the Emperor give them their answer and permit them to de- 
part? Dom Manuel, said Dom Rodrigo in conclusion, had 
received Matthew with far more honour than Lebna Dengel 
had shown them. 

Ah, replied the Abyssinians, if their embassy had arrived 
during the reign of David's predecessor they would not have 
enjoyed such good treatment as that which they had now met 
not, that is to say, unless they had brought a really satisfying 
present! It all came back to the same thing. The present had 
been a bitter disappointment, and to describe die wonders 
that Duarte Galvao would have brought only deepened the 
gloom. 

No blame attached to Dom Rodrigo if his offering failed to 
please. But the delegation indisposed the Emperor in another 
way which was entirely their own f ault It really was unneces- 
sary to let the Abyssinians see that Dom Rodrigo and Jorge 
de Abreu were at daggers drawn. 

For the inevitable had happened. Even before they reached 
the Emperor's court the first and second in command had 
Mien out "over unimportant things," says Francisco 
Alvares. 

"Maintain good peace and concord, as men visiting a 

90 



A Prolonged Visit 

strange land who must be careful how they act** so Diogo 
Lopes wrote in Dom Rodrigo's regimerito. Diogo Lopes knew 
what he was talking about, and to whom. But he must have 
been equally aware that he was preaching in the desert. Old 
Portugal produced a marvellous race of men. There was no 
danger that they feared, or hardship they would not endure, 
or adventure they were unprepared to undertake. Before a 
common enemy they could unite and die as hero comrades on 
the battlefield, but they could not live in harmony together. 
Strong wills and hot tempers made clashes between equals 
fierce and frequent enough, but between commander and sub- 
ordinate they were the rule. All of these men professed a pas- 
sionate loyalty to their King, but they chafed tinder every 
other authority. The relations of a chief with his immediate 
second were particularly difficult and delicate, and neither 
Dom Rodrigo nor Jorge de Abreu stood the test. 

From existing accounts it seems that Jorge de Abreu was 
the more to blame. He was a man of very haughty disposition, 
and he felt that as second person of the embassy due promi- 
nence was not given to him. 

Dom Rodrigo, for his part, made light of the dignity attach- 
ing to an understudy's post. "You are second only that you 
would take my place were I to die,** he pointed out, to Jorge 
de Abreu's indignation. The bitterness increased each time 
some special attention was bestowed on the ambassador. Dom 
Rodrigo should have made the Emperor understand that Jorge 
de Abreu, too, was an important person who must receive 
his share of every honour! The ambassador continuing oblivi- 
ous of such claims, Jorge de Abreu asserted himself. 

He chose the time when the court first moved and the Em- 
peror sent to ask if the mules and slaves provided for the 
strangers* journey had proved satisfactory. Dom Rodrigo re- 
desired. 

Not so, then burst out Jorge de Abreu furiously and in Am- 
haric ( he had been picking up the language rapidly, it seems ) . 

91 



The Land of Prcster John 

Dom Rodrigo had kept all the good mules and camels for 
himself. "Tell the Emperor I had only crippled mules and use- 
less slaves!" 

"That is not true!" cried Dom Rodrigo hotly. How dared 
Jorge de Abreu send such a message to the Emperor? A few 
more angry words were passed, and the colleagues fell upon 
each other with drawn swords, while the Abyssinians gaped 
in blank surprise. Their companions separated the two men 
before either was killed, but Dom Rodrigo had already 
wounded Jorge de Abreu. 

Lebna Dengel heard all about it and was scandalized. Such 
doings in a foreign land, he said with truth, were most un- 
seemly. He begged the parties to be reconciled. At the same 
time he sent some very fine mules to Jorge de Abreu, to whom 
he was particularly attentive after this. The fiery foreigner 
seems to have interested him. "He is like an unbridled horse," 
the Emperor is said to have remarked. Lebna Dengel was dis- 
pleased with Dom Rodrigo for refusing to make peace, and 
looked on the embassy coldly in consequence. Nevertheless 
he decided at last to write his answer to Dom Manuel. 

Letterwriting in Abyssinia was not undertaken in a light or 
frivolous spirit "They are not in the habit of writing to. one 
another," Padre Francisco explains. Verbal messages were the 
usual mode of issuing communications, the written word be- 
ing reserved for momentous occasions such as this. All the 
most learned in the land were therefore summoned and sat 
down with all the books of the New Testament around to 
nerve them for their task 

With the help of spiritual and temporal wisdom the weighty 
letter was slowly evolved. As it came out, bit by bit, Saga 
Zaab read it aloud, Pero da Covilham translated into Portu- 
guese, which Joao Escolar wrote down assisted by Father 
Francisco. It was particularly difficult, the chaplain says, "to 
render Abyssinian into Portuguese.* 

An Arabic translation was made out at the same time. 
When the triple linguistic effort was finished at last, each ver- 



A Prolonged Visit 

sion was tied up in a small brocaded bag and packed into a 
leather-lined basket. 

The Emperor sent a gold and silver crown to Dom Manuel, 
whom he said he regarded as a father. He gave gold and mules 
to the various members of the embassy, and a silver cross and 
crook to Father Francisco. Prayers were symbolic of the in- 
vestiture of spiritual authority over Massawa, the island of 
Dahlak, and the other isles and islets of the Red Sea. Tray 
have him made bishop of these lands," Lebna Dengel wrote 
to Dom Manuel. The whole of this delightful diocese was 
Moslem, but Francisco Alvares was graciously invited to con- 
vert all its inhabitants. 

The miscellaneous Europeans at the Abyssinian court re- 
ceived permission to leave with the Portuguese all but Pero 
da Covilham, but then it seems he did not wish to go. Two 
others stayed behind with him, at the Emperor's special re- 
quest. The skill of Mestre Joao had greatly impressed the 
Ethiopians, who were anxious to retain his sendees; and the 
painter, Lazaro de Andrade, also consented to remain. Lebna 
Dengel appears to have admired the European culture and 
was desirous of obtaining assistance from that quarter to guide 
his country on the path towards progress. He begged Dom 
Manuel to send him skilled craftsmen of all kinds, especially 
printers, goldsmiths, and silversmiths. 

Thus the embassy set out on the long trek to Massawa, and 
quarrelled as they went The treasurer and his assistant had 
by that time fallen out, and one attacked the other with a 
lance and nearly killed him. Dom Rodrigo refused to share 
provisions with Jorge de Abreu, whereupon Jorge de Abreu 
assaulted Dom Rodrigo's quarters in the night and a free fight 
ensued. The Abyssinians had to intervene. Most of Jorge de 
Abreu's men were placed under arrest, while he and Dom 
Rodrigo "reviled each otter with bad words before the Bahr 
Nagach." 

And this tormented journey was for nothing after all* for 
no fleet came to Massawa that year. They returned to the 

93 



The Land of Prester John 

Abyssinian court, but Dom Rodrigo and Jorge de Abreu trav- 
elled separately. 

If to enter Abyssinia was no easy task, it was even more 
difficult to get away. Distances were so great and communi- 
cations so laborious that twice Dom Rodrigo missed the fleet 
when it arrived. He ought to wait nearer the sea, wrote the 
captain of the second squadron that failed to find the em- 
bassy within access of Massawa. All this sending of ships for 
nothing was a great expense. 

All together, the delegation spent five years in Abyssinia, 
Far from waiting by the sea, they seem to have wandered 
everywhere during that time, but their exact itineraries are 
difficult to trace. We know that they resided eight months at 
Aksum. Sometimes they stayed at Debaroa, sometimes in the 
Tigr& Quite often they followed the court, at other times they 
travelled on their own, but always moving in two separate 
bands, for Dom Rodrigo and Jorge de Abreu were never rec- 
onciled. Padre Francisco appears more often in Dom Ro- 
drigo's company, but the good-natured chaplain remained on 
amicable terms with everyone. The natives, too, seem to have 
liked him very much. He lived for eighteen months as guest in 
the house of a certain Abaht Ras, a man with thirty children 
and three wives. Perhaps Padre Francisco expounded the mer- 
its of monogamy to him, for before his visitor had left, the 
Ras had cut down his conjugal staff to one, the youngest and 
most recent wife alone being retained. 

The Abyssinians did not see much harm in polygamy. No 
civil law proscribed it, and the Church's attitude was vague. 
Also there were advantages attendant on repeated marriages, 
for the newly wed enjoyed a month's dispensation from fasts. 
"Some of my friends," Padre Francisco says, "used to marry 
new wives on the Thursday before Lent, merely to have the 
privilege of eating meat" 

It is not surprising if carnally minded people tried to evade 
the rigours of Ethiopian Lent This was no mere abstention, 

94 



A Prolonged Visit 

as in Europe, but literal starvation on bread and water for six 
weeks. The surrounding Moslems were so well aware of this 
that they always chose the Lenten fast for their incursions. 
During those forty days they knew that they would find their 
enemy too weak to put up much resistance. 

It might be thought that one such fast in twelve months 
would satisfy the most ascetic spirit, but devout souk im- 
proved upon it. Some monks would not even eat bread, but 
only husks and water. Many persons carried their austerities 
beyond the Lenten period. Throughout the year the pious 
Queen Helena took her meals only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, 
Saturdays, and Sundays. 

Mortification of the flesh did not stop at starvation. There 
were people who never sat down during Lent. There were 
men and women who spent the night up to their necks in 
water, and this at altitudes where "at this season are great 
cold and frost" Other penitents passed days and weeks in 
deep open graves where they could barely move. Padre Fran- 
cisco visited more than one of these in their reclusion. * e They 
have/* he says, "a ledge three fingers wide on which they sit, 
and two on either side to take their elbows, while in the wall 
in front a niche has been cut to hold a book." 

Such austerities, Pero da Covilham assured him, were very 
common in Ethiopia. As for hermits, one might be found in 
almost every cave. He led Francisco Alvares by desert places 
to where a deep gorge cut the mountains. A torrent hurling 
itself from dizzy heights into the dark abyss filled the air 
around with spray that looked like snow. Pero da Covilham 
pointed through the water mist to a cavern's mouth far down 
the rocky wall. "A monk lives there who passes for a saint," he 
said. Still farther down the chasm another cave was dimly 
visible. There, said Father Francisco's guide, a mysterious 
white man had done penance for twenty years. Nobody knew 
who he was or whence he came or when he died- One day the 
opening of his cavern was found to be walled up. The Em- 

95 



The Land of Prester John 

peror ordered that it should not be disturbed, and so the secret 
of the human tragedy that met its end behind that rock was 
guarded there for ever. 

Though all their mountains were peopled with holy men, 
yet it was to the foreign priest that the Ethiopians appealed 
to rid the country of a plague of locusts. Padre Francisco 
Alvares rose to the occasion. His methods, which he has de- 
scribed himself, were engagingly simple: Besides appropriate 
prayers and processions, he wrote out a manifest, exhorting 
the locusts "under pain of excommunication, to move off 
within three hours and betake themselves to the sea, or to 
Moslem lands, or to wildernesses of no use to Christians. And 
if they failed to do this, the birds of the air and the beasts of 
the field, hailstones and tempests were called down upon them 
to destroy them. I had a number of these locusts caught, and 
thus admonished them in their own name and that of the 
absent . . . after which I let them depart in peace." This ap- 
peal to the finer feelings of the insects was not made in vain. 
The locusts disappeared! 

On the whole, the Portuguese enjoyed their stay in Abys- 
sinia. With the adaptability characteristic of their race they 
made themselves at home. But the uncertainty of when, or if, 
they weore to get away must have been rather wearing. Until 
1523 they had no news of either Portugal or India, The fleet 
that called at Massawa that year managed to get letters de- 
livered to Dom Rodrigo, In these the commander, Dom Luiz 
de Menezes, announced that the delegation would be waited 
for until April 15. It was on April 15 that Dom Rodrigo re- 
ceived the letter, and he was at a week's journey from the 
coast! 

This was a blow, as may be easily imagined, but the mail 
contained even worse news than that The great Dom Manuel 
was dead He had died over a year ago, in December 1521. 

Weirds cannot describe the consternation carried by these 
tidings. In these days when royal prestige stands or falls with 
a prince's personality, it is difficult to understand what that 

96 



A Prolonged Visit 

man represented to his subjects* hearts. Historians fail to show 
us any outstanding gifts of mind or charm of character in Dom 
Manuel. We find in him no glaring vice, but neither do there 
seem to be exalted virtues. He was just Manuel the Fortunate, 
who reaped what his predecessors had sown and wore the 
laurels plucked for him by others. His personality eludes us 
altogether. During twenty-six years we see him raised aloft, 
impassive in his splendour, watching his far-called navies 
fade away, while the East cast glittering offerings at his feet, 
and heroes kissed his hand and went to die at the world's end. 
But he was "El Rei, nosso Senhor" the serene and gorgeous 
symbol before whom a conquering generation bent the knee. 
They did not look for personality in him. Their loyal affec- 
tion was obviously quite sincere, but they must have loved 
him after the manner that sailors can love a wooden figure- 
head. 

His death was signalled as a national calamity. When Du- 
arte de Menezes, then Governor of India, received the news, 
we are told that he emitted a wild cry and smote his own face 
with the baleful letter. Dom Rodrigo did not behave quite so 
dramatically, but he and all the embassy dissolved in tears. 
To exhibit their grief to all around, they shaved their heads 
after the custom of Ethiopian mourners. What had happened? 
inquired the natives sympathetically. Dom Rodrigo was too 
overcome by sorrow to reply, but Padre Francisco found his 
tongue. "The moon and stars have fallen and the sun is dark- 
ened," he told them with Oriental imagery, "for our King 
Dom Manuel is dead and we are orphaned." 

The Emperor politely ordered three days* official mourning 
in the land, during which time all booths were closed and 
business ceased, who inherits the realms of the King my 
f ather?" he asked Dom Rodrigo, who had returned to court 
Dom Rodrigo answered that it was the young Prince Dom 
Joao. "Such a good father is bound to have a good son/* ob- 
served Lebna Dengel soothingly. **I will write him a letter.* 

So a new set of letters were laboriously produced, addressed 

97 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

to "my brother** Dom Joao III. "We two together can destroy 
the world," suggests the Negus cheerfully. "Write to me," he 
furthermore entreats. "Because, seeing your letters, it will 
appear to me as if I saw your face, and greater love exists be- 
tween those who dwell apart from one another than between 
those who are near." Since he grasped this important truth, 
why was he so censorious of the European longs? "Sir 
Brother," he writes smugly r "I disapprove of the kings of Eu- 
rope, because though they are Christian they are not of one 
heart, but make war upon one another all the time. Had I a 
Christian long for neighbour, I should never quarrel with 
him." 

This effusion seems to have taken a month and a half to get 
ready, at the end of which time the Emperor gave to the dele- 
gates rich clothes and golden chains, eighty ounces of gold, 
and a hundred cloths for the expenses of the way, besides a 
mule for each one to ride, and so dismissed them with his 
blessing. The party, rather uselessly, journeyed to Massawa. 
Of course the fleet had sailed weeks before, so they returned 
to court 

They f ound the Emperor was absorbed in a new study. He 
had awaked to a sudden interest in the map of the world 
given him by the Portuguese some years ago. Would Padre 
Francisco explain it to him and have the names of all the 
countries that it showed translated into Amharic? With the 
assistance of Saga Zaab, each country was duly labelled, and 
Lebna Dengel had his first geography lesson. That was Italy, 
his mentor pointed out, and that was France, that one was 
Spain, and this, they said complacently, was Portugal. 

The Emperor pondered. Was that really Portugal? said he. 
But it was very little! How could so small a country be ex- 
pected to hold the Red Sea against the Turks? Might it not 
be wiser to ask the King of Spain to build a fortress at Zeila, 
the King of France to erect another one at Suakin, while Por- 
tugal could occupy Massawa? So disconcerting a result of 
Pf ester John the roundness of the world" had not 



A Prolonged Visit 

been anticipated. The Portuguese began to wish that they had 
been less anxious about his education. 

Portugal, Dom Rodrigo declared with conviction, needed 
neither the King of Spain nor that of France to hold her for- 
tresses against Egypt and Turkey. Besides, he added, patriot- 
ism rising above the fetters of scientific truth, maps were very 
misleading. Their designers naturally did not devote much 
space to a country so well known as Portugal. Look also at 
Venice, Jerusalem/ and Rome world-famous cities all of 
them how tiny they appear upon the map! It was the ob- 
scure and unexplored portions of the earth that took up the 
most room, because instead of names one had to fill them up 
with lions and elephants and mountains. Let him observe 
his own Ethiopia on this map. It occupied much space merely 
because the land was little known. It seems that this strange 
explanation was accepted by the Emperor, for we hear no 
more of calling in the King of France. 

A few days after this, Lebna Dengel announced his inten- 
tion of writing to the Pope. How did one write a letter to the 
Pope? he asked Dom Rodrigo de Lima. Dom Rodrigo, who 
had never carried on a correspondence with the Holy See, 
seems to have been quite scared and flustered at the thought. 
They had not come to Abyssinia to write letters, he declared, 
nor would any member of his staff be equal to the task of 
writing to the Pope. 

Padre Francisco, however, was prepared to rise to the occa- 
sion. He would word the opening paragraphs for the Impe- 
rial scribes, he said, and they would "follow up with what 
was in their hearts." "Bring all your books/" they said, "then 
we can begin."* Padre Francisco replied that he had BO need 
of books, and sat down then and there and wrote out the first 
lines, to the wondering delight of the Ethiopians. The docu- 
ment was handed round respectfully. He had not looked at 
any book, they cried; alone he did it! After which, by the usual 
processes, they completed the letter. 

TPadre/* said Dom Rodrigo unhappily when the chaplain 



The Land of Prester John 

returned to his tent, "I wish that I had not told them that 
there was no one among us who knew how to write to the 
Pope. They will conclude that we are rather ignorant men. 
I hope that you will come out strong, and do what you are 
able!" 

Til or well/" Father Francisco answered modestly, "it is 
done, as you see." So saying, he produced his letter, and Dom 
Rodrigo was very pleased. 

To Lebna Dengel, a letter to the Pope meant no more than 
an exchange of compliments with the head of the Western 
Church. It did not imply the slightest desire on his part to 
adopt Latin rites. To Padre Francisco, however, it seemed a 
step towards reunion. He gladly agreed to be the Emperor's 
messenger to Rome and carry Lebna DengeFs letter to the 
Pope, together with a little golden cross. 

Prester John resolved to send an ambassador to Portugal as 
welL Would Saga Zaab be a suitable person? he asked, and 
they assured him that the choice could not be better. "Already 
he understood us, and we him." 

In spite of all these preparations or perhaps because of 
them another fleet was missed in 1524, but 1526 found the 
delegation upon the Bahr Nagach's territory in good time for 
the navigating season. They were quite unprepared for the 
next blow. 

Were they waiting for the fleet? the Moslems of Massawa 
asked them happily. Then they would wait for a long time. 
Tbere was no Portuguese fleet in all the Indian Ocean any 
more there were no Portuguese in Indial Both men and ships 
were aH destroyed wiped out annihilated! The Crescent 
now reigned supreme from coast to coast. 

This was appalling news. The delegation saw themselves 
condemned to perpetual exile. What were they to do? Return 
to court at once, said Dom Rodrigo de Lima; but the others 
had no wish to wander back inland. 

Padre Francisco sat down by a stream alone and wept. But 
his cheerful disposition soon reasserted itself. "Now, this thing 

100 



A Prolonged Visit 

comes from God," he reflected, "and if it is His will that I 
should remain here, the Lord always be praised! I know this 
country better than any native because I go hunting, and I 
know the mountains and the streams, and the fertile soil that 
will give all that may be planted or sown." On the strength of 
this knowledge he would remain on this spot and take to 
farming. He had some good slaves and fourteen cows and 
rams that he could exchange for ewes. He would settle where 
there was water and till the soil and sow and plant. He would 
build a little chapel in which to say Mass, and he would live 
upon his own produce. 

He returned, greatly cheered, to his companions and set 
forth his scheme. The Portuguese is rare who finds no charm 
in agriculture, and everybody thought the chaplain's idea 
excellent All volunteered to join him. They knew the country 
and they knew the ropes. They would carry their fruit and 
vegetables to sell at neighbouring markets. For distraction 
they would hunt and fish. It might not be a bad life on the 
whole. "They all embraced me except Dom Rodrigo/* Dom 
Rodrigo, it seems, still hankered for the court; the rest agreed 
to settle there and make the best of it. 

Upon this atmosphere of philosophic resignation Padre 
Francisco's native servant, Abetai, burst in. 

The Portuguese! 1 " he shouted. *The Portuguese are on the 
sea!" 

"Are you sure what you are saying, Abetai?" his master ex- 
claimed, electrified. 

Abetai was. A man arriving from the coast had Just gone to 
tell the local chief. 

The Portuguese sat up all night to waylay this man, but, 
after all, the news he brought was vague. Shots had been 
heard off the island of DahlaL That might have been any- 
thing. Perhaps the Turks! 

Three days of suspense were endured, and then the whole 
fleet swung serenely into Massawa, The scare had been en- 
tirely without foundation. Not only had there been no defeat, 

101 



The Land of Prester John 

there had not even been a battle* A galley had been captured 
by Moslems near the Gulf of Cambay. No other origin could 
be ascribed to the fantastic tale. 

This time the delegation really got away. In the joy of de- 
parture Francisco Alvares did not forget his old patron, Du- 
arte Galvao, who for nine years had been lying in an obscure 
grave at Kamaran. The faithful chaplain had marked the spot, 
and he found it again when the fleet halted beside the island. 
Sailors are superstitious folk and they considered it unlucky 
to embark a corpse, but Padre Francisco secretly by night un- 
earthed the bones. "I found them all, 7 * he says, "except the 
teeth." These remains were enclosed in a casket and smug- 
gled on board. Antonio Galvao, sole survivor of the dead man's 
sons, received them reverently in India. 

On July 24, 1527 the wanderers arrived in Portugal. Some 
of them had been away for eight and others for twelve years. 
How often on sweltering days on Abyssinian plains or Red 
Sea beaches the travellers must have sighed for the fresh 
breezes of their native land! Yet, such is the irony of fate, they 
disembarked in Lisbon, Francisco Alvares affirms, "beneath 
the greatest heat that I have ever known.** These wanderers 
seasoned to earth's hottest climates were knocked out by a 
European summer day! More than that They tell us that two 
Red Sea Arabs of their party died of heatstroke, under a bridge 
at Santarem! 



102 



PART H 
HOW PORTUGAL SAVED PRESTER JOHN 





The Patriarch's Recruits 





The Emir Mahfuzh's trunldess head was preserved as a tro- 
phy in the royal tents of Ethiopia. On Saturdays and Sundays 
and all festivals the Abyssinian maidens and young men made 
merry with the grisly toy, while Lebna Dengel gazed upon 
the shrivelled features of his enemy and felt like David look- 
ing at Goliath's head. 1 

"God has granted me repose from all my enemies," he had 
written to Dom Manuel in 1521. "In all the confines of my 
lands, each time I march against the infidels they fly before 
my face/' 2 Thus Lebna Dengel boasted in the pride of his vic- 
torious youth. God granted him this rest for five years more, 
and then an enemy arose who did not fly before him. 

Ahmed-ibn-Ibrahim el Ghazi was the avenger's name, and 
he was son-in-law to the decapitated Emir. The terrible left- 
handed Imam Ahmed, once an obscure Somali warrior from 
Harrar, had risen to supremacy among the Moslem tribes. 
The Portuguese refer to him as King of Zeila, but this, it 
seems, was inexact. Whether or not Ahmed was a king, he 
wielded the same power. The conquering Turks of Egypt and 
the Red Sea were his allies. They furnished him with firearms 
and munitions and placed troops of janizaries at his command. 
With such support Grany (toe Left-handed One) became 
Ethiopia's scourge. Raid followed raid, and battle followed 

105 



The Land of Prester John 

battle. Fire and sword devoured villages; churches and mon- 
asteries were burned and harvests lost. During decades of 
misery the warfare never ceased. 

Lebna Dengel was a fighter. He fought and lost and fought 
again. The noblest of Ethiopia were slain fighting at his side. 
His eldest son was killed in battle, and the second carried 
away captive into Arabia to the Pasha of Zebid. His beautiful 
Queen, Sabla Vangel, with her younger children, was a refu- 
gee for many years on the most inaccessible of Abyssinia's 
mountains. Vainly the enemy prowled round this eagle's nest. 
Granye longed to seize the lovely woman for his own harem, 
but her citadel was inexpugnable, and Sabla Vangel's youth 
and beauty faded on the mountain-top. 3 

In all those weary years her husband never sheathed his 
sword. Disaster followed disaster and left him undismayed. 
One by one he saw his provinces laid waste. He saw himself 
abandoned by his chiefs, who, despairing of their country's 
liberty, cut their own losses by deserting to the victor. He 
found himself hard pressed and driven back from one moun- 
tain stronghold to another, while the iron circle of his f oemen 
slowly clewed around. Himself a shadowy ruler with the rem- 
nant of a kingdom, he saw all these things clearly, yet with a 
small and faithful band Lebna Dengel fought on; he still re- 
fused all humiliating terras of peace, and died in 1540 still 
unconquered and still fighting. 

What then of his royal ally, his "brother," Dom Joao III? 

The alliance between Portugal and Abyssinia was theoreti- 
cally a splendid thing. In practice it had one serious drawback: 
the relative geographical position of the allies was such that 
regular communications were not easy to establish. The fort 
of Massawa was to have been the link but the fort of Mas- 
sawa had not been built The appearance of the Portuguese 
beyond Bab-el-\f andeb continued to be meteoric and irregu- 
lar, "Close very securely - the doors of the Straits," had 
been Albuquerque's dying counsel to Don Manuel, 4 but this 
advice was disregarded. Long after Albuquerque's death the 

106 



The Patriarch's Recruits 

"doors'* were open still, and the Turks had occupied most of 
the ports of the Red Sea. Their supremacy was challenged 
from time to time. Every few years a Portuguese fleet swept 
up to Jidda and to Tor, carrying devastation into the enemy's 
strongholds. But having bombarded and burned, the Chris- 
tians sailed away. They made no settlement by the Red Sea, 
and Abyssinia remained isolated. 

Dom Joao III at the time, unconscious of Ethiopia's plight, 
was more interested in the Inquisition than in Prester John. 
The King's ambassador at Rome was using every diplomatic 
wile to persuade the Pope to have the Holy Office established 
in Portugal. Till that boon was obtained, other matters were 
shelved. Poor Padre Francisco Alvares, who had travelled to 
Rome with Lebna Dengel's letter, was kept waiting for his an- 
swer indefinitely. The Portuguese ambassador, quite en- 
grossed by the question of the Inquisition, would do nothing 
to remind the Pope of the remote affairs of Abyssinia. 

In Lisbon the equally unhappy Saga Zaab marked time. He 
could not go home until he had the answers of both King and 
Pope. When years passed and he did not return, Lebna Den- 
gel grew furious with his innocent ambassador. What was the 
man doing, the Emperor wondered angrily, to stay away so 
long? He resolved to send another envoy after him the Patri- 
arch himself. 

Needless to say, it was not Mark. That gentle centenarian 
was already dead, and Alexandria had not been called upon 
to find him a successor. A new Abuna was recruited on the 
spot how qualified it would be difficult to say, for in the 
freshly appointed head of the Abyssinian Church we recog- 
nize the physician Mestre Joao! 

How Ae metamorphosis happened is not dear. The prac- 
tice of medicine does not as a rale lead to supreme ecclesiasti- 
cal honour, but Mestre Joao appears to have been one of those 
fortunate conceited people who manage to be taken at their 
own face value. Mestre Joao fancied the role of Abuna, which 
high function he felt that he would worthily adorn, and it 

107 



The Land of Prester John 

seems that he got Lebna Dengel to agree with him. The law- 
fulness of the investiture has more than once been queried, 
but lawful or otherwise, it suited the Negus that his Patriarch 
should be a Portuguese. Thus Mestre Joao makes his shining 
reappearance on this page as Dom Joao Bermudez, high pon- 
tiff of the Abyssinian Church. 

The ex-physician was nothing loath to visit Europe arrayed 
in his new glory. There Lebna Dengel dispatched him, in 
1535, that he might call Saga Zaab to order and expound Abys- 
sinia's straits to Dom Joao III. 

Travellers to Europe from Ethiopia had two routes from 
which to choose: that of the sea via India and the Cape, 
which meant waiting at Massawa for the uncertain arrival of 
the Portuguese fleet, or the overland route up the Nile Valley, 
by which you could save time if you were lucky enough to be 
captured neither by the Turks in Egypt nor by pirates in the 
Mediterranean afterwards. Dom Joao Bermudez chose the 
shorter and more risky road. **I was caught by the Turks and 
nearly lolled,** he tells us, in spite of which he seems to have 
reached Europe in great form. 

His mission was entirely a success according to himself. 
Tile King received him graciously, and the Pope was delighted 
to do him honour. The guilty Saga Zaab, like a dog with its 
tail between its legs, came meekly slinking up to kiss the 
Patriarch's hand, whereupon *I had him loaded with chains," 
says Dom Joao Bermudez fiercely. 

Dom Joao III the Patriarch is our informant still gladly 
conceded everything that Lebna Dengel asked. He promised 
to send help to Abyssinia, and arranged to have the Patriarch 
sail for India with the new Viceroy, Dom Garcia de Noronha, 
who *was happy to take me with him.** But having been poi- 
soned (he supposes) by that villain Saga Zaab, I suddenly 
feD ill,** and could not leave that year which must have been 
a blow for Dom Garcia! 

All the King's physicians were summoned to the bedside of 
the interesting invalid, and, thanks to their care, the Patriarch 

108 



The Patriarch's Recruits 

was restored to health in time to sail with the 1539 fleet for 
Goa, where again we have his word for it he was received 
with overwhelming honours. 

The Viceroy, Joao Bermudez states, was most attentive to 
him > and prepared to lead a fleet to Massawa without delay. 
Thither Dom Joao Bermudez would have sailed that year 
with an imposing escort, but Dom Garcia died of dysentery at 
Cochin, and the privilege of carrying the Patriarch to the Red 
Sea was left to his successor. . . . 

Dom Joao Bermudez's account of his own triumphs reads 
well. We ought to be impressed. Unfortunately, there exists 
a nasty little document a letter written some years later by 
Dom Joao III to the Negus which tells another tale. The 
King, it seems, had not admired the Patriarch if Patri- 
arch indeed he were, which fact Dom Joao doubts: "I do 
not believe him to be more than a simple priest, and of the 
powers that he says the Holy Father granted him, I know 
nothing at all." 5 

Unimpressed though he was by the messenger, it is certain 
that the King did not ignore the message. Existing records tell 

o o o o 

us little on the subject, except of course the narrative of Dom 
Joao Bermudez, from which we gather that the sole objective 
of the cruise to the Red Sea in 1541 was to carry him to Mas- 
sawa, together with an expeditionary force entirely organized 
by him and under his supreme command. The impression 
given by the chronicles, however, is that the Patriarch was 
just an incident and not the pivot of the voyage! Nor is there 

letters that the Governor's brother wrote to the King before 
he sailed. 6 This new Governor, Dom Estevao da Gama, who 
arrived in India from Malacca, found among his predecessor's 
papers instructions to lead a fleet up to Suez, destroying all 
the Turkish ports, and he at once prepared to do so. 

The fleet called at Massawa to make repairs, and there they 
heard the latest Ethiopian news. It was not very cheerful 
Lebna Dengel had died six months before, and Galawdewos 

109 



The Land of Prester John 

(or Claudius), his son, was reigning over what was left of 
Abyssinia, supported by such chiefs as had not yet deserted. 
Galawdewos was very young and felt entirely lost. The enemy 
was as numerous as ever and more active. The Emperor had 
no firearms nor munitions to oppose their guns, and most of 
his subjects were traitors. No wonder that, in the words of 
Dom Joao de Castro, "he wrote letters that were more than 
piteous and miserable, on all of which above his signature was 
depicted Our Lord Jesus crucified." 

Dom Estevao da Gama had no time just then to consider 
these heart-rending appeals, for he was in a hurry to proceed 
to Suez. He decided to leave the heavy ships at Massawa 
while he took the lighter craft up the Red Sea. Massawa was 
supposed to be subject to the Abyssinian Empire, but the 

tribute to the Negus. An enterprising scallywag one of 
Granye's chief men had taken possession of the port and 
styled himself King of Massawa. When the Portuguese fleet 
appeared, however, the "king'* had modestly withdrawn and 
held himself at a safe distance several leagues away. Dom 
Estevao sent a message after him: "Pay me twenty seraphims 
for the expenses of this fleet, and give me Suez pilots, if you 
would not have me destroy the land." 

The "King of Massawa* made answer that he had no money 
and he had no Suez pilots, but he could offer two for Suakin 
and Dom Estevao might destroy the land if he saw fit. 

Dom Estevao, obliged to own that you cannot lay waste a 
desert, accepted such pilots as could be had. Thus he sailed, 
leaving his kinsman, Manuel da Gama, at Massawa in com- 
mand of the larger ships* 

The Patriarch, of course, also remained. He had been, he 
tells us, overcome with grief at Lebna DengeFs death. He 
would have liked to die. But the Governor and all the impor- 
tant people in the fleet had gathered round him to console 
him. They visited me many times, so I took courage.** Mean- 
while, a messenger was sent to advise Galawdewos of the am- 

110 



The Patriarch's Recruits 

bassador's return. The Emperor was requested to send some- 
body who would take charge of Dom Joao Bermudez. 

The Emperor's camp was far away in the mountains of 
Shoa. Weeks must elapse before the messenger returned. The 
Patriarch, now reconciled to life, waited in Manuel da Gama's 
ship and proved a source of trouble. 

As may have been observed, Joao Bermudez was a man 
whom dignity inflates, and that of Patriarch had swelled him 
up to bursting-point. In Abyssinia, he informs us, the Patriarch 
enjoys the same consideration as the Pope in Europe. He was 
therefore dazzled by his own importance and he wished to 
dazzle others too. The more the land of his adoption was ex- 
tolled, the brighter shone his own reflected glory. Thus he 
talked of Abyssinia constantly and he talked very big. Men 
listened open-mouthed to his tales of the greatness and riches 
of that enchanted land and the magnificence of its monarch. 
Silver and gold were as little to the Xegus as they had been to 
his ancestor Solomon. There was nothing that he would deny 
to those who fought for him. His empire was the place where 
every able-bodied man could win a fortune. Abyssinia was 
the land of all delights. 

It was the more tantalizing that the men were actually dy- 
ing at Massawa. Massawa was everything unpleasant. "The 
heat of this country is unbelievable!** groans an unknown 
writer who had sampled it himself. It was also unhealthfuL 
Manuel da Gama was soon obliged to set up a hospital ashore, 
and new patients entered it daily to die "of an illness that 
lasted only two days. They felt a great pain in their chests, 
and after this had started they could live no longer." For those 
who were not ill there was nothing to do and, worse still, 
hardly anything to eat. Either through faulty organization or 
owing to lack of funds, the ships* stores had given out, and 
supplies had to be purchased on land. They had to buy food 
out of their own pay; they were poor and it was very dear, 
wherefore "besides the heat, we suffered so from hunger that 
a hen was paid for in gold, and everything else in proportion- 

111 



The Land of Prester John 

Well might the men consider the time that they spent here as 
the worst in their lives." T 

The days dragged on, Governor did not return, and Manuel 
da Gama* was unpopular. He seems to have been as harsh a 
commander as the great Vasco himself, without the same gifts. 
"He was so difficult to live with," one writer declares, "that 
nobody could stand him." 8 The men began to grumble openly. 
Since they had been abandoned in this hole, why should 
they not travel to the land of plenty and take service with 
Prester John? 

The Patriarch applauded the suggestion. It seems that the 
King had given him authority to raise volunteers for Prester 
John. Placing a broad interpretation upon this permission, 
Dom Joao Bermudez encouraged would-be deserters from 
the fleet. He was lavish with promises on the Emperor's be- 
half, and made endowments right and left on paper. He 
looked forward, no doubt, to appearing before Prester John 
backed by a strong contingent, but he overreached himself at 
last. His glowing tales made men's mouths water and they 
could not wait One by one they slipped ashore and disap- 
peared. Vainly Manuel da Gama proclaimed that under pain 
of death no volunteers might go inland except when Dom 
Joao Bermudez went, and subject to the Governor's leave. 
Evasions still continued. 

The Patriarch's propaganda brought about yet more serious 
results. Some eighty or a hundred men made up their minds 
to escape all together. They collected their muskets and their 
swords. They chose a captain Antonio Correa 9 and a 
guide was engaged ashore to lead them to the Emperor's 
camp. They stole a boat one night and rowed away, quite de- 
termined that nothing would turn them back. 

The watchmen saw them go and sounded the alarm. Ma- 
nuel da Gama with a boatload of armed men launched out in 
pursuit He ordered the fugitives to be fired upon, but the 
gunners' sympathies were on the side of the deserters, and 
as they did not shoot with a good wffl, all missed the mark." 10 

112 



The Patriarch's Recruits 
The adventurers landed safelv on the beach and organized 

j O 

their little band. They had a fife and drum to enliven the way, 
and a pennon to carry before them. The guide was found at 
the appointed place, and, full of hope, they plunged into the 
desolate hinterland. 

All night long they followed their guide across the black 
and burning mountains where "the sun had left such heat that 
it seemed to be shining still.** The path was steep and rough 
and rocky. After scrambling for some hours over these 
scorched stones, breathing the fiery dryness of the desert air, 
the travellers were afflicted by a maddening thirst. Here was a 
detail that they had overlooked in their light-hearted escape. 
They had thought of drums and trumpets and guns, but it ap- 
pears that they had brought no water, and none could be 
found in this stricken wilderness. As the heat and discomfort 
increased, "they shouted to the guide to take them where 
they could find water." If they had to walk on in this oven 
they must drink. 

The guide "showed great good will and led them into some 
valleys between mountains, saying that there was water far- 
ther down." Gasping, but happily expectant, the adventurers 
plodded on. Under the paling stare of dawn they plunged 
into the narrow gorge and straight into an ambush. 

Then *our men understood that the guide had deceived 
them that they might all be slain, and so they killed him and 
began to fight the Moors with their guns, and the Moors with 
arrows and slings which showered so many stones upon them 
that they did not know what to do; none the less, the guns 
did much harm to the Moors and kept them at a distance. 

These Moors were men of the King of Zeila and the King 
of Massawa . . . with them were Turkish musketeers; but 
the worst evfl [for the Portuguese] was the great thirst from 
which they suffered* 

Antonio Correa was the first man to be killed, but another 
captain was appointed hastily, and the battle continued. The 
fugitives fought desperately, and the struggle might have 

118 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

been prolonged if the Moslems had not devised a stratagem. 

They suddenly cried out that the fighting should cease. It 
had started only by mistake. They really were all Christians 
and loyal vassals of Prester John! They had supposed the Por- 
tuguese were robbers at first sight hence the attack. Now 
that daylight had revealed their true identity, why not make 
peace? 

Hostilities were suspended at once, but some of the Por- 
tuguese remained suspicious. It would be more prudent, they 
said, to go on fighting. But the majority were frantic with 
thirst and could not think of anything but their longing for 
water. The risen sun shone on an arid waste; they had no 
guide, and if they killed these men, who could lead them to 
where there was something to drink? The improvised captain 
especially felt that he could endure the agony no longer. "He 
was f eeble," comments Caspar Correa, who was used to com- 
manders made of sterner stuff. This man prevailed upon his 
comrades to make peace, at which the Moslems all embraced 
the Portuguese like long-lost brothers. Did they want water? 
asked the kindly souls; they should have some at oncel So they 
were led, all unsuspecting, to the King of Zeila's tent. 

The terrible Grany was sitting with his hands devoutly 
clasped about a string of beads to which was hung a little 
wooden cross. Reverently he handed this chaplet to the Por- 
tuguese captain. "I say my prayers with these/* Granye ex- 
plained. 

The fugitives were in no inood to query the sincerity of his 
devotions. Could they have water? they implored their pious 
host, who brought gourds full of water then and there. The 
sight was too much for parched and weary men. Oblivious of 
aff else, they cast their weapons to the ground and drank 
They drank and drank and drank, and then loosened their 
belts to drink still more. 

Hie Moors, meanwhile, laughing and chatting pleasantly, 
picked up the muskets, swords, and lances and examined 
them- It aB was done in such an innocent and casual manner 

114 



The Patriarch's Recruits 

that the Portuguese paid no attention. They were only roused 
from their orgy of w*ater-drinking when "the Moors, having 
taken possession of most of the weapons, attacked the Portu- 
guese with them, killing and wounding as many as they 
could." 

"Surrender/* cried the King, "and your lives will be spared.** 
As nearly all of them were disarmed and defenceless, this ap- 
peared the only thing to do, but fourteen valiant souls refused. 
"Unfortunate men!" they shouted to their comrades. "Why 
surrender to traitors? Die like men, for they will loll you cru- 
elly!" So saying, they grasped what weapons they had left, 
and stood tiieir ground and died. In a few minutes all was 
over. But one man out of the fourteen had the presence of 
mind, as he fell wounded to the ground, to roll over and lie 
still as if dead, face downward in his blood. With rigid self- 
control he played the corpse all day, and so he witnessed his 
companions* fate. 

"Those that had surrendered, the Moors bound hand and 
foot; they stripped them naked, and shut them in a cattle- 
pen.** Towards evening the Moors lined up outside on horse- 
back, with all their lances bristling in the fading light. "They 
ordered the pen to be opened, loosed one of the captives, anct 
bade him come out to where the King and his captains sat 
on their horses by the door. As the wretched prisoner emerged, 
thus naked, the King thrust at him with his spear and gave 
him the first wound, and then the others did the same, and all 
tormented him.** As soon as the victim fell dead, a second was 
called out, and so the ghastly game continued until no one 
was left. "And when the sun had cooled, the Moors loaded 
their packs and removed to another place, because of all the 
dead men that lay there.** 

The living man, alone among the dead, stffl dared not move 
for hours. It was only after stifling darkness had blotted out 
the scene of horror that, by a superhuman effort, he rose. The 
way back to the coast was long, and his wounds were severe, 
but the horrors that he had seen that day gave him unnatural 

115 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

strength. Step by step, and watching constantly, he dragged 
himself in the direction of the sea. All through the hours of 
darkness, like a hunted thing, he strained on in his halting 
flight, until at dawn, from a hilltop, he saw the sea that stood 
for his salvation. He struggled successfully across the inter- 
vening wastes, reached the shore, and followed it to Arkiko 
and Massawa. He finally rejoined his ship, but in what condi- 
tion he arrived is not recorded. 

"Sir," said the deserter to his commander-in-chief , *1 pre- 
sent myself to you to punish as you may think fit, for all the 
Portuguese who went from here to seek Prester John have met 
with great chastisement." 

They had met with no more than they deserved, said Ma- 
nuel da Gama wrathfully. God executed judgment upon those 
who disobeyed their King and the representatives of the royal 
authority. 

A storm of protests greeted these words. Whose fault was 
it, his followers demanded of the captain, if starved and des- 
perate men escaped and so met death? They had no governor 
to help them and relieve their misery. What Manuel aa Gama 
ought now to do was to lead an expeditionary force ashore in 
order to avenge their slaughtered comrades. "There was not 
a man who would not be delighted to undertake the work." 

Manuel da Gama showed no wish to go. He said that he 
was glad those Moors were there as a chastisement for the 
disobedient Mutiny and desertion in the face of hardship 
were against the Portuguese tradition. It seemed, he added 
witheringly, "that now they wished to use the treachery and 
evil ways of Italian soldiers men in whom is neither truth 
nor law." And he reinforced his maxims by hanging five men 
whom he accused of having known of the deserters* plans. 

La the end he did attempt a punitive raid ashore, but the 
Moslems disappeared into the landscape at the Portuguese 
approach and wore nowhere to be found. 

The five corpses were still hanging on the beach when the 
Governor returned to Massawa. 11 

116 



Dom Cristovao to the 
Rescue 




Dom Estevao da Gama's cruise from Goa to Suez has been 
immortalized by Dom Joao de Castro. That learned hero kept 
a minute log of the whole voyage, from which we gather that 
the fleet was back at Massawa by May 22. * 

It was a triumphant return. Dom Estevao had carried out 
his raid upon the Turkish ports with that brilliance and effi- 
ciency to be expected of the great admiral's son, while the 
prowess of the Governor's young brother, Dom Crist6vao, fur- 
ther maintained the family tradition. 

Their arrival at Massawa was hailed with joy. Manuel da 
Gama, whose position had been fast growing untenable, was 
thankful to hand over the supreme command, while the men 
were happy to be delivered from Manuel da Gama. Thus har- 
mony was automatically restored, and Dom Estevao was able 
to turn his attention to the Abyssinian question. 

It was dear that something had to be decided about this. 
Tie Bahr Nagach had come to Massawa to fetch the Patri- 
arch, and there the Governor found K a woebegone and 
tearful Bahr Nagach. He was one of the few Abyssinian nobles 
who were faithful, but even his own fatter had deserted to the 
enemy. Trembling with emotion, and with eyes that ''streamed 
like living fountains," the loyal Ethiopian pleaded his coun- 
try's cause. Here was a Christian realm, he said, usurped by 

117 



The Land of Prester John 

infidels a Christian people led into captivity. Prester John 
implored his royal brother, who was champion of the weak, 
to rescue him and to restore his lands, which really belonged 
to the King of Portugal and were held in his name. 

Such a humble and pathetic cry for help could not fall on 
deaf ears. Dom Estevao assembled his captains at once and 
asked them for their views. The answer was unanimous. Not 
only did all agree that Prester John ought to be helped, but 
everybody volunteered to go. It was finally decided that four 
hundred men should be sent, and that number was easily 
made up. To choose a captain for them was more difficult 
Every fidalgo in the fleet implored the Governor to appoint 
him, and Crist6vao da Gama, more especially, gave his brother 
no peace. 

Dom Estevao hesitated. He had enough foresight to esti- 
mate what such an undertaking really meant. Dom Estevao 
was a man of nearly forty and had ceased to see the world 
through the enchanting glamour of first youth. To rush,off in 
a white heat of crusading fervour to the rescue of a Christian 
realm might be a holy and a glorious enterprise, but how was 
it likely to end? Dom Estevao looked across the bay towards 
that terrible hinterland where thunderclouds obscured the 
distant mountains. Up in those fastnesses, above the coast like 
an inferno swept by demon hordes, the citadel of African 
Christianity still held It had stood for centuries like a rock 
while the waves of Islam beat in vain about its base, but to- 
day the rejuvenated forces of the conquering Turk had loosed 
upon it all the fierce tribes of Somaliland and the hordes of 
Arabia. And this rock was already undermined. What hope 
was there for Abyssinia? It was a kingdom overrun and lost, 
doomed by its own dissensions. The young ruler, abandoned 
by his chiefs, clung to his dying empire, but the Christian 
island was about to sink into the Moslem sea, Portugal, in hon- 
our bound, had to send help, but what were four hundred 
men to stem that tide? It was a forlorn hope. 

Dom Estevao thought of all these things before lie chose a 

118 



Dam Cristovao to the Rescue 

captain for the volunteers. It can only be my brother," he 
announced at last. "I can sacrifice him, but I have no right to 
risk the son of any other man.** * 

Dom Cristovao da Gama was overjoyed to be the chosen 
victim. He was a youth of twenty-f our with all his father's tire- 
less energy and grim tenacity of purpose. He also shared the 
family ability. It is certain that he was a young dare-devil, but 
he had a good head on his shoulders and a gift for leadership. 
Responsibility might safely rest with him. He and his selected 
companions made their preparations enthusiastically. The 
chief names recorded of that gallant band are Manuel da 
Cunha, Joao da Fonseca, the brothers Inofre and Francisco 
de Abreu, Francisco Velho, Luiz Rodrigues de Carvalho, and 
Miguel de Castanhoso, who has told their tale. 

The reverend Patriarch, of course, was of the party, though 
he does not figure conspicuously in any narrative except his 
own, from which account, however, we may gather the im- 
pression that the real commander of the expedition was him- 
self. 

The soldiers were picked men, the best in all the fleet, and 
very well equipped. Eight pieces of artillery were given them, 
a good supply of ammunition, and a hundred muskets, besides 
which each man carried a double set of arms. Dom Estevao 
presented this smart little army to the Bahr Nagach. 

~I have assembled these men whom you see," the Governor 
said, "and I deliver them to you, together with my brother, 
who is prepared to serve tifl death, as are also all the Portu- 
guese who go with him. . . . Sir Brother," he added, embrac- 
ing Dom Crist6vao, "remember before everything the service 
of Our Lord. . . . And especially, I beg of you, that what you 
least esteem should be your life.** 

Dom Estevao was very loath to say good-bye to his young 
brother. He seemed convinced that it was a last farewell. He 
led him away alone by the seashore, where for a long while 
file two sons of Vasco da Gama were seen pacing the beach 
and talking to each other. Estevao wept as he embraced Cris- 

119 



The Land of Prester John 

t6vao fervently before they rejoined their companions and the 
expedition was officially dismissed. 

The Governor took a banner of white damask embroidered 
with a crimson satin cross and handed it to Dom Cristovao in 
front of all his men. "Sir Brother," he said, "I deliver to your 
keeping this standard of the King, our lord, bearing the em- 
blem of Christ, and I charge you and command you on our 
good father's blessing that you defend it and uphold it in 
every way you can, as far as in you lies, with every power you 
possess, and even with your life.** 

"Senhor Governador," replied the young man proudly, T 
trust in the Passion of Our Lord that while I live I shall per- 
form such deeds that the King our lord will greatly thank 
you for having placed this charge upon me. Time shall be wit- 
ness." 

Thus Dom Cristovao and his four hundred men set out on 
the long trail while Dom Estevao went back sadly to his ship. 

There was no sadness in the hearts of the young enthusiasts 
who turned their faces to the distant mountains. They were 
crusaders and knights-errant, with a throne to rescue and the 
Infidel to fight They were embarking on a holy and a chival- 
rous adventure that, if they lived, would cover them with 
glory, and if they died meant certain paradise. Nothing dis- 
couraged them, meanwhile not the long and tedious march 
from Massawa into the heart of Abyssinia, neither the rough- 
ness of the road, the blistering heat, nor even lack of water. 
Each obstacle was gaily overcome as it arose. When the fiery 
sunshine of June in the desert made day progress impossible, 
they marched at night and slept by day instead. Since the 
mules and camels given by the Bahr Nagach were insufficient 
to mount everyone, all walked and used the beasts only to bear 
the loads. When those vertiginous paths were reached at 
which the camels jibbed and would not carry their burdens 
any farther, Dom Cristovao and his men relieved the animals 
and struggled up the mountains with the artillery upon their 
backs. 

120 



Dom Cristovao to the Rescue 

In this manner [writes Miguel de Castanhoso] we travelled for 
six days, on the last of which we climbed so high a mountain that 
to reach the top took us from dawn till dusk. And when we were 
upon the summit, we discovered wide pastures and a cool and level 
land where the air was very pure, and there was water clear and 
good. 

This was the tableland of Debaroa a paradise after the 
arid wilderness. But it was a ruined paradise. The Moslem 
scourge had passed over those fertile fields and laid them 
waste. All signs of human life and cultivation were wiped out, 
and the large church where the party rested for two days was 
half demolished. 

They travelled on across this pleasant region, "which we 
enjoyed more than the hot country we had left" Here was 
fresh air, and water in abundance, but the scene continued 
to be one of smiling desolation. The villages were uninhab- 
ited and the crops left to their fate, for the villagers had fled 
before the Moors and hidden with their cattle in the moun- 
tains. 

On the outskirts of Debaroa a melancholy procession met 
Dom Crist6vao. All the monks came out with crosses in their 
hands and, chanting dolefully, they threw themselves at the 
young captain's feet They welcomed him as their deliverer. 
"Our Lord has brought him!" they cried. Tor fourteen years 
the enemies of our holy faith have trodden down the land 
and demolished His sanctuaries." Dom Crist6vao like an 
apostle of God had been sent to save the people from captiv- 
ity. T[ do not think," observes Miguel de Castanhoso, "that any 
man could have been there without shedding a thousand 
tears. 9 * 

The monks then led their champion to prayers within the 
ruined monastery, where elaborate carvings still remained 
beneath an improvised roof of straw thatch. 

The Bahr Nagach advised the Portuguese to camp at Deba- 
roa until October, when the rainy season, just beginning, 
would be ova:. Before then it would be difficult to join forces 

121 



The Land of Prestcr John 

with Prester John. The Emperor, it appeared, had just suffered 
a fresh defeat and was sheltering in high mountains some three 
hundred leagues away. When the dry season set in, he would 
no doubt march to meet his allies with what little army he 
had left. 

The Bahr Nagach, meanwhile, had tents pitched outside 
Debaroa for the Portuguese, and the peasants brought them 
what little produce they had left from their neglected fields. 
These people came down from the heights and re-entered 
their homes when Dom Crist6vao and his men arrived. Hope 
had returned to Debaroa, for they felt that the white stran- 
gers could not fail to save. Had not Dom Cristovao assured the 
monks that "Our Lord would shortly restore their prosper- 
ity"? And they took further comfort when he told them that 
he came to their land for no other purpose than to expel the 
Moors and to die for the Christian faith. 



122 



Dom Cnstovao and the | 

T? l- - ^ 

Ethiopian Queen 




Upon a platform perched above a precipice, Queen Sabla 
Vangel mourned her widowhood. Besides her husband she 
had lost two sons, and the eldest one surviving only eight- 
een years old was fighting far away. While the young Em- 
peror carried on the losing struggle for his father's throne, it 
seemed that his family was doomed to end its days upon the 
mountain-top. At least they were removed from any danger. 
Above the world and out of it, Sabla Vangel with her mother, 
two fair daughters, and a younger son had found a certain 
refuge from their foes. 

It was the strangest and the strongest fortress Nature ever 
built, which only a winged enemy might storm. A huge bare 
rock that tapered to a giddy height curved outward at the sum- 
mit just as if the mountain wore a hat or else was balancing 
a tray upon its head. The plateau so formed measured a quar- 
ter of a league around and appeared inaccessible from down 
below. It was, in fact, inaccessible to any casual climber, for 
the breakneck spiral path that led up to the crest came to a 
sudden end against a wall of rock. The last part of the ascent 
could only be made in a swinging basket lowered from the 
guardhouse seventy feet above. 

A stronghold such as this could only be surprised by trea- 
son, for hunger could not drive it to surrender. Upon this plat- 

123 



The Land of Prester John 

form hung in space all cereals grew and flourished. Goats 
multiplied upon the rocks, hens scratched there happily, and 
innumerable swarms of bees provided honey. Two enormous 
cisterns gathered in the yearly rains, providing water suffi- 
cient for five hundred persons. Thus Sabla Vangel and her 
children suffered no hardship on their island in the air, which, 
Castanhoso observes* "appeared made by the hand of God 
expressly to save this lady and her people from captivity, and 
that a monastery of friars established up there should not be 
destroyed." A monastery on such a site was inevitable. The 
recluses of Abyssinia had the instincts of the chamois and 
the eagle, and any retreat so hopelessly cut off could not fail 
to find favour in their sight. But we should like to know how 
the first ascension of that mountain was achieved! 

From Debaroa, which was not far off, Dom Crist6vao dis- 
patched two men to fetch the Queen. Manuel da Cunha and 
Francisco Velho pitched their tents at the mountain foot and 
sent to announce their arrival to the guard aloft 

Sabla Vangel was thrilled. The Christian conquerors of the 
East were coming to deliver her! With such an escort she 
could safely leave her mountain. Let the messengers come 
up at once, she said, that she might see and speak to them, 
and she would prepare to come down with them next day. 

The basket was let down the cliff ; the two white men were 
hauled up onei by one and welcomed by the Queen as heaven- 
sent guests. Sabla Vangel wept for joy. She called Dom Crist6- 
vao and all the Portuguese her sons. She knew that she 
would soon be avenged of her enemies, she said, now that the 
Lord had sent these men to rescue Abyssinia. 

Two days later a picturesque procession entered Debaroa. 
Sabla Vangel rode side-saddle on a beautiful grey mule, ca- 
parisoned with silks that swept the ground. A screen upheld 
over the royal traveller concealed her form from curious-eyed. 
The Bahr Nagach walked humbly at her bridle-rein. He was 
naked to the waist and with a lion-skin flung across his shoul- 

124 




COASTS OF THE RED SEA IX 1513 



Dom Cristovao and the Ethiopian Queen 

ders, which dishabille was in accordance with the strictest 
court etiquette. For an Abyssinian to be seen in the Imperial 
presence fully dressed would be unpardonable presumption. 

With blue and white pennons fluttering in the breeze, and 
carrying their white and crimson flag, Dom Cristovao and all 
his men turned out to meet the Queen. They were wearing 
"their best clothes, which were very good." Sabla Vangel, too, 
had made a toilet equal to the occasion, as was revealed when 
she opened her screen. She was dressed in finest white Indian 
cloths, under a grey satin cloak embroidered with golden 
flowers. Her headdress, Castanhoso observed, was "after the 
Portuguese f ashion," but a veil before her face hid all except 
her eyes. Her approach was greeted by a roar of artillery and 
crack of guns, while the troops lined up to form a guard of 
honour on each side of the bewildered Queen. 

Dom Cristovao stepped forward gallantly. His breeches and 
his doublet were deep purple embroidered with gold; a 
French cloak of bkck and gold hung from his shoulders, 
and a black cap with a gold medallion completed the colour 
scheme. He was a personable young man. The Queen re- 
ceived him graciously and raised her veil while talking to him. 

Dom Cristovao was ready with a little speech, which a 
kneeling interpreter translated. He told her how the Gover- 
nor of India, hearing of Ethiopia's plight, had sent them to 
the rescue, and how they were all quite ready to die in defence 
of the land. Sabla Vangel listened happily. Neither she nor 
any prince on earth could repay them, she said, but only God. 

In this manner Queen Sabla Vangel left the silent peace of 
limitless horizons to join the martial stir and bustle of the 
camp. She does not seem to have regretted the exchange. AS. 
through that rainy season at Debaroa she was the hidden and 
interested witness of her allies* activities. Peeping through the 
aperture of her tent, she admired their shining arms, she lis- 
tened enthralled to their fifes and drums, and she marvelled 
at the elaborate military manoeuvres which Dom Cristovao 

125 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

and his young sparks performed with a peculiar zest born of 
the consciousness that the Queen and her ladies were look- 
ing on. 

There were less romantic things to do, however, than parad- 
ing in front of the royal tent. Material of all lands had to be 
collected for the coming campaign. Gun carriages were nec- 
essary, and woodwork for the fortification of camps. To make 
such 'things these young fidalgos all turned carpenters. 'We 
cut the wood ourselves/* says Castanhoso, "and sawed it too, 
because the natives have no skill for anything." Dom Crist6- 
vao was the master of works, and "directed them as if he had 
been born and brought up to such labours.** It was all part of 
the day's work and he was very happy. Twenty-four carts 
were constructed under his guidance. Animals, of course, 
would be required to draw the vehicles, but they, too, were 
obtained. "With the Queen's permission, we assaulted a few 
Moslem villages, where we took many mules on which we 
rode for until then we all went afoot and we also captured 
many cows and oxen, which we trained to draw the carts." 

Working by day, and maintaining armed watch by night, 
they passed the winter and it was time to Join forces with 
Prester John. Letters from him had already arrived. The Em- 
peror was enthusiastic over the coining help. It was what 
might be expected, he declared, from such a great King as 
his brother. Besides, it had been prophesied of old that Abys- 
sinia was to be saved by white men. As soon as weather made 
it possible to take the road, the Emperor would set out to meet 
the Portuguese. 

The camp at Debaroa was raised on December 15. The 
Queen and her women accompanied the army, besides two 
hundred Abyssinian carriers. 

Dom Cristdvao divided his forces into five captaincies of 
fifty soldiers each, while the remaining men guarded the flag. 
Two captains, turn and turn about, marched with the bag- 
gage wagons, the rest riding ahead. Dom Crist6vao with four 
men mounted on swift mules rode down the ranks twice daily 

126 



Dom Cristovao and the Ethiopian Queen 

to make sure that all was well, and Miguel de Castanhoso, 
bringing up the rear, was escort to the Queen. 

It was a strenuous march. The transport of troops and war 
material over Abyssinian mountains has never been an easy 
matter, and in those days there were no facilities at all. "In 
many places where the oxen could not draw the carts," says 
Castanhoso, "we had to pull them up ourselves.** But a stage 
upon the route was reached at which even this mode of trac- 
tion failed. The carts stuck fast and could not be moved one 
way or another. In vain Dom Cristovao scanned the rocky 
heights that closed in on every side. There was neither path 
nor trail where anything on wheels might pass. What was to 
happen? asked Sabla Vangel in dismay. The men might climb 
the mountains, but the wagons simply could not get across. 

But Dom Cristovao was determined that they should. Im- 
perturbably, he had his carts taken to pieces, and unscrewed 
the various parts belonging to the artillery. He shouldered 
everything that he could cany, and each one of his compan- 
ions did likewise. It took us three days to climb those moun- 
tains with our loads." But the top was reached at last, and 
nothing left behind, to Sabla VangeTs great astonishment 
There were no people like the Portuguese! she said with deep 
conviction. 

Upon those heights, whipped by a dry and icy wind, they 
lingered to reassemble their carts. A little white town was 
perched there aloft, and on the highest peak (of course!) a 
hermitage. The trail that led there was better designed for 
goats than for the human foot, but the travellers, it seems, 
had still the energy to climb up and explore. Within the her- 
mitage a strange sight met their eyes. No recluse occupied 
these walls, only three hundred mummies of white men 
"sown up in thongs of dry and worn-out leather. The bodies 
were almost perfect, with only nose, lips, and some fingers 
missing." 

Nobody was able to explain the origin of these mysterious 
human remains, though the natives afl agreed that they ware 

127 



The Land of Prestcr John 

centuries old. One tradition had it that they were men who 
had conquered the land in Roman times. Others preferred to 
think that these were saints, for did not sanctity preserve a 
corpse? They were both saints and martyrs, affirmed Dom 
Joao Bennudez, on the strength of which assertion some men 
prudently laid in a stock of holy relics. 

Miguel de Castanhoso accepted this theory with reserve. 
Certainly, he says, there seems to be some mystery here. But 
the mere desiccation of dead bodies does not strike him as 
miraculous, even the living in this air risk being shrivelled up, 
for *I have never been in any country where it was so dry 
and cold.** 

Leaving the nameless dead to their eternal sleep, the troops 
resumed the march. 

No Moslems had been encountered as yet, for the King of 
Zeila still was far away. Such few of his officials as were in 
the villages to levy tribute made themselves scarce when the 
army appeared, and everywhere the peasants offered their 
allegiance to the royal flag. Districts that had been conquered 
by the Moors at once surrendered, and now some chiefs who 
still were faithful dared to express their sentiments and join 
the Queen. But the number of Ethiopian chiefs who had 
imblushingly deserted astonished Castanhoso's honest soul 
Prester John, he says, could never have been brought so low 
if his people had been as loyal as the Portuguese. 

They were now approaching the first stronghold conquered 
by the King of Zeila irom the Emperor. This was the famous 
Amba Sanayt, another of Abyssinia's natural fortresses. The 
beautiful and fertile tableland above could only be reached 
by one of three passes, any of which had to be climbed in full 
view of the garrison aloft. Two of these ways of approach 
were breakneck paths protected by stone walls and powerful 
gates, but the third required no reinforcements beyond those 
of Nature's making. A precipitous slope of loose stones that 
only a barefooted man might scale without disaster termi- 
nated in a cliff in which some footholds had been cut. 

128 



Dom Cristovao and the Ethiopian Queen 

Years ago a party of harmless-looking merchants had held a 
fair at the base of this mountain. The people from the high 
tableland came down to see their wares. They bought and 
sold, and took the friendly merchants home with them to set 
up business in the mountain villages. As soon as they were 
safely on the heights, the merchants threw off their disguise 
and showed themselves as Moslem warriors. So Amba Sanayt 
was taken by treason, and Granye followed there himself and 
made it very strong. Five hundred men were placed on guard 
at every pass, and a body of horsemen was kept in readiness 
to conduct raids upon the villages below. This garrison be- 
came the terror of the countryside, for none knew when the 
band of robbers might swoop down to burn and plunder and 
to cany men and women off into captivity. 

Queen Sabla Vangel trembled when she heard that Dom 
Crist6vao proposed to storm the eagle's nest. She sent for the 
young man and gravely remonstrated. She assured him that 
Amba Sanayt was impregnable. It would be easier to rout 
twelve thousand men upon the battlefield than penetrate that 
eyrie. Besides, his army was still too small to make such an 
attempt. Better avoid Amba Sanayt by a wide detour, and 
when they had joined forces with her son, see then what 
might be done. 

Dom Cristovao listened unmoved. He must take Amba 
Sanayt, he replied. It would be a military error to pass on with 
such an enemy stronghold behind one's back. But there was 
no cause for alarm, he earnestly assured her, for they were 
Portuguese! With God's help he hoped to take the mountain 
without much peril, and the Queen could set her mind at 
rest, because they all would die before they let her come to 
harm. 

As it seemed to Sabla Vangel that they alt would die in any 
case, tfijs thought did not really console her. **Do as you think 
best/* she said at last, finding her champion Quite determined. 

O XT Ji 

But her heart sank as she looked up at the forbidding moun- 
tain with a church converted to a mosque perched OB the top* 

129 



The Land of Prestcr John 

Leaving his trembling protege, Dom Cristovao studied the 
approaches to Amba Sanayt He allotted one pass to Fran- 
cisco Velho and Manuel da Cunha with their respective men 
and three pieces of artillery; Joao da Fonseca and Francisco 
de Abreu, similarly equipped, would take the second, while 
he himself attacked the last and most dangerous of the three 
with the rest of the men* He left the Bahr Nagach and all his 
following to guard the Queen, and a few Portuguese were 
detailed to stay with them. 

Sabla Vangel watched everything unhappily. She nearly 
gave way to panic when Dom Cristovao feigned a preliminary 
assault. He wished to find out how the land lay and on what 
lines the defence would be conducted, so while the enemy 
flung rocks about, he made his observations and retired. The 
Queen, who did not understand such a manoeuvre, concluded 
that this was a defeat, and it required all Dom Cristovao's 
eloquence to persuade her that everything was well. 

"Next day at dawn," writes Castanhoso, *we commended 
ourselves to Our Lady and said a general confession before a 
crucifix which a priest held in his hands, and we were ab- 
solved by the Patriarch." So fortified, they marched up the 
mountain, the signal for the attack was given, and all three 
passes were assaulted simultaneously. 

It was the artillery that won the day. The Portuguese would 
have been crushed beneath the boulders and stones hurled 
down upon them if they had not thinned the f oemen's ranks 
by constant and well-directed fire upon the height. Covered 
by their artillery, they charged uphill, Dom Crist6vao leading 
the way. They scaled the slippery slope and negotiated the 
rock wall. This last was very difficult with missiles falling from 
above Twice we were thrown down when nearly at the top 7 * 
but in the end they climbed and stayed. 

The other two passes were similarly stormed and a fierce 
battle was soon raging on the tableland. The Moslems fought 
bravely, but the unexpectedness of a triple assault threw them 
into confusion: Those who fled from Dom Cristovao fell in 

130 



Dom Cristovao and the Ethiopian Queen 

with Manuel da Cunha's men, or with those of the other cap- 
tains, so all were trapped and none escaped our swords.** The 
resistance ended in a panic. Some leapt wildly over the cliff 
to meet their death upon the rocks below, others took shelter 
in the houses of the native mountaineers, who promptly 
turned against their vanquished tyrants and slew them with- 
out mercy. 

Dom Cristovao made his way to the mosque. That edifice 
was immediately reconsecrated as "Nossa Senhora da Victo- 
ria* and Mass was celebrated there next day. There, too, the 
Portuguese buried their dead, who numbered only eight, 
though fifty wounded swelled the list of casualties. 

Many captive Christian women were found in the village 
and released. The Moslem wives and daughters, also numer- 
ous, were presented to the Queen. Sabla Vangel might have 
increased her retinue of slaves, but she hardened her heart 
against her f oewomen and put them all to death. 

The Queen was amazed at Dom Cristovao's rapid victory. 
Truly, she said, her allies had been sent by God, and nothing 
was impossible to them. Dom Cristovao invited her to climb 
up and inspect the captured mountain, but she refused. The 
slopes were strewn with dead bodies, and though Sabla Van- 
gel might calmly order wholesale executions, she could not 
bear to look upon a corpse. Dom Crist6vao had to come down 
to her. 

The conquered territory was given to a faithful Abyssinian 
chief, and the Portuguese lingered there until the wounded 
had recovered. Another joy was shortly added to the pleasure 
of their victory when two compatriots turned up quite unex- 
pectedly from Massawa with letters. The Governor, Dom 
Estevao, had sent five ships to the Red Sea early in 1542 to 
find out how the Abyssinian expedition fared. What letters 
meant to men who thought themselves cut off from their own 
kind is easy to imagine. "We all were happy to have news 
from India," Castanhoso says. 

Dom Cxistdvao was able to write to his brother of his re* 

181 



The Land of Prester John 

cent victory. He also sent Francisco Velho with forty men to 
ask the captain of the Red Sea squadron for supplies of gun- 
powder and other material. 

A fortnight was calculated necessary for the answer to re- 
turn from Massawa. The messenger was anxiously awaited, 
for now at last it seemed that the enemy was near. Prester 
John wrote to Dom Cristovao urging haste. Already the King 
of Zeila trod the warpath with a formidable host. The Em- 
peror and his allies would have to make an effort to join forces 
before either met the terrible Granye. 



132 



The Clash of Arms 




Ahmed-ibn-Ibrahim el Ghazi was an old campaigner, not to 
be outmanoeuvred easily by two young men. Dom Cristovao 
had not been more than two days on the march when his 
scouts informed him that the King of Zeila held the way. It 
was necessary to choose between immediate battle or retreat 
into the mountains until the Emperor arrived. Bad for prestige 
was the general verdict on the latter course. Also, the Portu- 
guese said to one another, there was the moral effect upon 
the natives to consider. At the slightest sign of weakness on 
the part of their allies the time-serving aborigines would cut 
off food supplies. "It would have been far worse,** in the opin- 
ion of Miguel de Castanhoso, "to risk starvation and being 
discredited than fight the Moors, for victory rested in the 
hands of God," 

Happy in this assurance, Dom Crist6vao decided to give 
battle, and so rode back to meet the Queen, who followed the 
rearguard. He received her with a special display of pleasure 
and rejoicing Tbecause she was a woman and full of fear.* 
Gently encouraging the trembling lady, her knights-errant led 
her into the middle of their camp. They left the Patriarch 
there to strengthen and console her, and a guard of fifty men 
as well. Meanwhile the Moslem host drew near and spread 
itself over the countryside. Poor Sabla Vangel must have re- 

133 



The Land of Prester John 

pented bitterly of having left the safety of her mountain. 

Left-handed Ahmed, with three hundred horsemen follow- 
ing, appeared in silhouette on a hilltop against the sky. Two 
white flags with a crescent moon and one red flag with a white 
crescent fluttered at his side. The Moor reined in his horse 
and for a long while **he stood there looking at us," Grany6 
gazed upon his foes until his heart grew light, and scorn 
welled up within it. The Portuguese had taken up a good 
position, but how few of them there were! While he observed, 
his army spread and surrounded the hill on which the Chris- 
tians camped. He had them in a trap. 

Dom Cristovao concluded that he planned a night attack, 
so all kept vigil fully armed, with pow-der handy and match- 
locks alight, shooting at intervals into the dark. Nothing hap- 
pened, however, and when morning dawned, a herald from 
the King of Zeila appeared at the camp. 

Granye's message was in a lofty tone. It was plain, he said, 
that Dom Cristovao must be very young since with so few 
men he dared to defy him, but Ahmed could not blame an in- 
experienced youth. The fault lay with the natives of the land 
and with "that woman who had deceived him." The King of 
Zeila added that he was sorry for Dom Cristovao. Let him but 
abandon the Queen and he would be forgiven the presump- 
tion of facing Grany6 a thing that none had dared to do 
for fourteen years. Two courses were open to Dom Crist6vao. 
He could either take service with the conquering Moslem, or 
else depart in peace. This magnificent offer was made because 
the King of Zeila knew it was "that woman who misled him.** 
Clearly the man could not forget how he had once desired 
"that woman" for his wife! 

This message was accompanied by the presentation of a 
monk's cowl and a rosary. Grany6 would make monks of them 
all, said he, if they did not obey his will. 

Dom Crist6vao knew the rules of the game. He received the 
envoy with all the courtesy that chivalry demanded. He gave 
a cap with a costly medallion, and a purple satin cloak 

184 



The Clash of Arms 

He then escorted him politely from the camp, promising to 
send an answer in due course. 

A well-dressed young man riding on a mule delivered the 
reply, written in Arabic. The Great Lion of the Sea, declared 
the letter proudly, had sent his subjects to the rescue of his 
brother-in-arms, the very Christian Prester John, who had 
been defeated and disinherited by the enemies of the Holy 
Catholic Faith. The small army that Granye saw was quite 
sufficient to resist such evil men. The justice of the Emperor's 
cause alone was ample to defend it. If the Moslems had tri- 
umphed hitherto, it was because the Lord had wished to chas- 
tise the Abyssinians for their sins. Dom Cristovao now hoped 
in God that the moment had arrived when their captivity was 
to be turned. Next day would witness what the Portuguese 
could do. They certainly would not take service with Moslems, 
nor recognize another master than the King of Portugal, 
whose vassals were all the kings of India, Arabia, and Persia, 
and most of those of Africa, and \vhose vassal Granye would 
one day be, with the help of Our Lord! 

To the taunt implied by the cowl and rosary, Dom Cristo- 
vao retorted in what was felt to be a most becoming manner, 
by sending his enemy "a pair of small tweezers for plucking 
eyebrows and a large mirror making of him a woman. 9 * 

It seems that Granye was annoyed, but he said that they 
must be brave men to wish to fight with him. 

The King of Zeila had good reason to be confident Fifteen 
thousand bowmen followed his flag, and one thousand five 
hundred horsemen, besides two hundred Turkish arquebusi- 
ers. It was to these few Turks that he owed much of his past 
success, for Abyssinian armies fled in terror from powder and 
shot. These Turks, Castanhoso affirms, were valiant warriors. 
*TThey came closer to us than any of the others, and far ex- 
celled them. They even erected little walls quite near to us, 
from behind which they did us harm." Manuel da Cunha and 
Inofre de Abreu with sixty men were needed to dislodge them. 
But the bulk of Granye's army still held back. Ahined*s tac- 

135 



The Land of Prester John 

tics were to draw the enemy down from his strong position, 
and for this he knew that it was only necessary to wait. The 
Portuguese were quite surrounded and unable to forage for 
supplies. Since Granye did not move, Dom Cristovao was 
forced to take the offensive without more delay. 

At dawn upon April 4 the Christian forces advanced to meet 
their foes. A shout of joy that shook the earth rose from the 
Moslem host when they saw the little army on the march. "It 
seemed to them they had us in their net.** 

The battle raged fiercely and long. The inequality of num- 
bers was absurd. About three hundred and fifty Portuguese 
(forty had not yet returned from Massawa, and eight were 
dead) backed by two hundred Abyssinians would inevitably 
have been wiped out had it not been for their few pieces of 
artillery. "The bombardiers acted as valiant men. They shot 
so fast and fearlesslv that the horsemen could not reach us, 
for the horses took fright at the fire. None the less the Moors 
did us much harm, especially the Turks with arquebuses." 
Dom Crist6vao was shot in the leg by one of these, in spite 
of which, says the admiring Castanhoso, he continued to per- 
form such deeds as "neither ancient nor modern histories 
record of any excellent captain." 

It is problematical how such a struggle might have ended, 
but about midday "Our Lord was pleased to remember His 
own, as He always does at times of such great need, accord- 
ing to His mercy. Thus when it seemed to us that we were 
getting the worst of the battle, it looked to the King of Zeila, 
who was watching all, as if his men were losing." Grany was 
a brave man. He plunged into the thickest of the fight to rally 
his army, and as he did so an arquebus shot went through his 
thigh, killing his horse under him. Bearing their wounded 
leader off the field, the Moslems gave the signal for retreat. 
At this, the Portuguese bore down upon them furiously and 
so put them to flight. 

Dom Cristdvao had not enough horses to follow far in the 
pursuit, so he "contented himself with the victory which Our 

136 



The Clash of Arms 

Lord had given him that day, which was not small.** It was, in 
fact, not far short of miraculous, and they attributed it to "the 
blessed Apostle Lord St. James," who had not failed to put in 
an appearance. Several people had seen the heavenly war- 
rior, and "without his help," Castanhoso assures us, "and prin- 
cipally that of Our Lord, it would have been impossible to win 
this battle." 

While Santiago and the Portuguese routed the foe, the 
Queen showed that u a woman full of fear" could also be of 
use. She improvised a hospital tent and there tended the 
wounded. She and her ladies tore their veils and headdresses 
into ribbons for making bandages, which they tied up them- 
selves. The army surgeon was wounded in his right hand, and 
so unable to do his work, but Dom Cristovao, when he arrived, 
replaced him. The resourceful young man appears to have 
added a knowledge of first aid to his other accomplishments. 
Thus he treated everybody's wounds himself, "and when he 
had attended to them all, he dressed his own the last. 9 * 

About a week was given to the wounded to recover, but 
Dom Cristovao did not venture to allow them more. The 
enemy was still in sight and Granye had sent for reinforce- 
ments, which might arrive any day. It was necessary to fol- 
low up the victory by a second battle before the Moslems had 
time to pull themselves together. 

The Sunday after Easter Dom Crist6vao led a fresh attack. 
Granye had not yet recovered from his wounds, but he was 
borne upon a litter to the field to encourage his men "Rather 
unnecessary/* comments Castanhoso with a touch of irony, 
"they were so numerous that the mere sight of how few we 
were filled them with courage.** 

It certainly had that effect upon Grada Amar, a captain 
just arrived at Grany*s summons with 3,500 men. Grada 
Amar was bursting with the lust of battle and decidedly above 
himself. How was it possible, said he, for such a handful to 
resist the Moslem power? They are only a few hens!** he cried, 
and charged in fury, urging his men to massacre the lot If all 

137 



The Land of Prester John 

his troops had followed his example, the Christian lines would 
have been broken, but fear of the Portuguese artillery made 
some hold back. Regardless of hesitation in the rear, die cap- 
tain never stayed his headlong course. He and "four or five 
valiant Moors threw themselves on our lances and died like 
brave men." 

The rest of the Moslem cavalry charged after this, but en- 
countered a stubborn resistance. The Portuguese stood their 
ground and fought desperately, but the weight of the impact 
was tremendous and the Moslems had begun to break into 
the camp when, on this day again, a lucky accident occurred. 
Some gunpowder caught fire with great spectacular effect. 
Two Portuguese were lolled in the explosion and eight were 
badly burned, but all the same "it caused our victory," The 
panic-stricken Moslem horses bolted, carrying their riders far 
away. Confusion was thus borne into the enemy's ranks, and 
though the Turks still rallied and returned, the first fury of the 
onslaught was broken. 

The minute that Dom Crist6vao felt them slacken, he 
sounded the charge. "We rushed at them with such impetus 
that we drove them before us on the field till they were put to 
flight." Again shortage of horses curtailed the pursuit, but the 
foemen's camp was entered and despoiled. The King of Zeila 
Sed far off and all his army followed him. 

It was two days after this that Francisco Velho, with his 
forty men, returned from Massawa. They were "unbelievably 
sad" at having missed the battles, the more so that they had 
failed to find the ships at Massawa. The Bahr Nagach, how- 
ever, had brought back with him forty horsemen and five 
hundred foot soldiers a useful reinforcement. All were re- 
ceived with open arms, and Dom Crist6vao, with his army 
doubled, resolved to follow the pin-suit. 

Fourteen wounded men were unable to march, but the Gov- 
ernor of Tigr took charge of these. He had them carried on 
litters across the mountains to his home, where "it is truly im- 
possible to say what kindness and honour we received from 

138 



The Clash of Arms 

him and from his wife. We could not have been better cared 
for and provided for in our own fathers 1 house I emphasize 
this point," says Castanhoso, "because I was present all the 
time, being myself one of the wounded." 

Struggling through mud and rain, meanwhile, the Moslems 
fled and the Christians toiled after. The King of Zeila climbed 
a mountain and there fortified his camp. Dom Cristovao en- 
trenched himself upon another mountain opposite. There, at 
the southern borders of Tigre, the hostile armies glowered at 
each other while floods poured from the skies. There it seemed 
that they would have to stay until the rains had ceased. 

Dom Cristovao dispatched a mulatto called Aires Dias to 
announce their victories to die Emperor and urge him to make 
haste. They had expected he would join them earlier. Await- 
ing him, the peasants built straw shacks for their allies on 
the mountain and kept them well supplied with food. 

Granye was in worse case. It was against the Abyssinians* 
principles to back a loser, even if he were of their own faith 
and race. A vanquished Moslem, therefore, had no hope of 
support. The King of Zeila could get no provisions except at 
the point of the sword. He sent a desperate message to the 
Pasha of Zebid: Unless the Turks came to his rescue, he was 
lost, and all the country he had conquered for the Sultan 
would return to Christian hands. Especially he must have ar- 
tillery. This cry for help was made the more appealing by a 
rich present of gold, silver, and jewels. 

It moved the Pasha, who acted at once. He picked a thou- 
sand Turkish arquebusiers, and produced ten bombards, com- 
plete with gunners. He called a host of Arabs from their tents, 
and by way of embellishment he mounted thirty Turkish 
horsemen upon iron-shod steeds with golden stirrups. When 
the October rains had spent their fury on the mountains, these 
soldiers of the Crescent left their deserts for the King of 
Zeila's camp. 

Meanwmle Dom Cristovao had been conferring with an 
Abyssinian Jew. South-west of the River Tacaze stretched 

189 



The Land of Prester John 

the wild peaks and fertile valleys of the Simen Mountains, 
which were the Falashas* home. These mysterious Ethiopian 
Jews, whose origin is lost in speculation and obscurity, had 
found upon these heights a paradise as fair as their forefathers* 
promised land. The rich, well-watered soil could produce any 
crop; all flocks and herds grew fat and flourished there, and 
literally this region flowed with honey, which might be found 
dripping from every rock. The man who spoke to Dom Crist6- 
vao had been captain of this country at tie time that Prester 
John had been defeated and escaped over the Simen heights. 
Galawdewos would have to pass that way again to join his 
allies, but the mountains had since been taken by the Moors. 
They had left few men, however, to defend their conquest. If 
Dom Cristovao were agreeable, the Jewish captain could lead 
him up by hidden ways, and the stronghold might be taken by 
surprise. There was not a hope that Prester John himself could 
do this as he passed. Upon this point the Jew was positive. The 
Emperor had insufficient men to fight the garrison. 

This startled Dom Crist6vao. He had always understood 
that Galawdewos had an army. If the Emperor had not even 
the force to achieve what was made out to be a very easy con- 
quest, the future prospects were not rosy. Dom Cristovao 
went to ask the Queen for the whole truth, and Sabla Vangel 
confirmed what the Jew had said. Her son had no real army 
left! Dom Cristovao hid his consternation and decided that he 
must clear the path for Prester John. Besides, tie Jew had told 
him there were horses to be captured and there was nothing 
that the Portuguese needed so urgently. 

He could not raise his camp nor move his army, or the Mos- 
lems would occupy his mountain while he was away. Dom 
Crist6vao therefore departed secretly by night with Manuel 
da Cunha, Joao da Fonseca, and one hundred men. 

The whole thing was not quite so simple as the Jew made 
out. The River Tacaz, to start with, was in flood, but that did 
not deter them. The strongest swimmers swam across while 
the others passed ova: with their powder and guns on rafts 

140 



The Clash of Arms 

made of inflated hides and wood. The garrison upon the moun- 
tain, represented as negligible, turned out to be over three 
thousand men. The raid could easily have ended in disaster, 
but the amazing luck that had accompanied Dom Cristovao 
so far continued to hold good. 

In their first furious charge the two commanders tilted 
straight into each other, and the Moslem was overthrown and 
slain by Dom Cristovao. It seems that the former had no un- 
derstudy and his troops lost nerve. Quite probably they 
thought it was a vanguard action and that a large army was 
following behind. "They had nobody to shame them or to or- 
der them,** says Castanhoso, so when, to add to their confu- 
sion, the Jew r s arose with wild cries at their back, they simply 
turned and ran away, and the natives of the mountain killed 
them as they ran. 

Such a simple and spectacular success amazed the Jewish 
captain. It was obvious, he said, that God fought for the Chris- 
tians, and he demanded then and there to be baptized. His 
twelve brothers, we are told, were all converted too, and Dom 
Crist6vao, at their request, stood sponsor to the lot. 

To the joy of this spiritual fruit of victory was added that 
of material profit. Much spoil was looted from the deserted 
Moslem camp, besides which they collected a w r hole herd of 
fat cattle, three hundred mules, and best of all eighty 
splendid horses. 

Dom Cristovao left his godson once more captain of the 
Simen Mountains and ordered him to send a message to the 
Emperor that the way was clear. Thirty Portuguese remained 
behind to bring the horses slowly over the rough mountain 
paths, while Dom Cristovao with the other seventy men trav- 
elled at full speed night and day to get back to their camp. 

The evening of his return some cannon-balls, shot from the 
darkness, fell behind the Christians* lines* 

The King of Zeila's Turks had just arrived. 



141 




If Dom Cristovao had been an older warrior, observes Diogo 
do Couto with the wisdom that comes to most of us after 
events, those two brilliant battles with Granye would never 
have been fought. Regardless of what the natives might think, 
he should have withdrawn to the mountains and waited for 
the Emperor there, harrying the Moslems from above, "But, 
being a proud young man, and very knightly, though inexpe- 
rienced in the art of war, he was guided by the inclination of 
his heart and spirit, which was to fear nothing at all, rather 
than by the rules of military science such as prudence and cir- 
cumspection.** No self-respecting writer of the Renaissance 
can make a statement without classical support, so the exam- 
ples of Nestor and Fabius Cunctator are duly cited here to 
illustrate the case in hand, 

Diogo do Couto writes serenely of what had happened half 
a century back, but Miguel de Castanhoso, who lived through 
it all, attempts no criticism. Perhaps he had not heard about 
Fabius the Temporizer. 

Whatever that canny Roman might have done in Dom 
Crist6vao*s place on past occasions, this time there was no 
choice except to fight. Dom Crist6vao found the King of Zeila 
camping within gunshot of the Portuguese, quite ready to at- 
tack without delay. Instead of resting after their breathless 

142 



Granye's Revenge 

inarch across the mountains, the conquerors of the Falasha 
country had to spend the night in watching, fully armed. An 
Abyssinian runner was immediately dispatched to meet the 
men bringing the horses and to urge them to make haste. All 
hoped that the battle might be postponed until they arrived. 
Without mentioning the badly needed horses, thirty men more 
or less meant a great deal to such a small arniy. Until these 
absent comrades joined them, the Portuguese would number 
less than 340 men. It is true that there were the Bahr Xagach's 
troops some 800 perhaps but the sight of the Turkish artil- 
lery had quite shattered their nerve. It did not appear that 
one could hope for much support from them. 

Grany knew better than to give his enemy a day or two. 
Dawn of August 28, 1542 saw his mighty army marching in 
battle array, with a vanguard of a thousand Turks, and all the 
artillery in front. With a dissonant clash of instruments and 
emitting blood-curdling cries, the desert warriors closed 
around the Christian camp. As daylight spread across the 
hills, fire was opened on either side. 

The duel lasted several hours. The Portuguese guns did 
great execution, but this time the Turks could give back what 
they got. And Turks were valiant men. Regardless of arquebus 
shot or cannon-ball, they charged up to the barricades that 
fortified the camp, and with Granye s host pressing behind, 
it seemed that they must soon break through. 

Dom Crist6vao saw that his only hope to hold them back 
lay in a succession of furious sorties, led from different sides 
by each captain in turn, for, states Castanhoso soberly, "they 
could never stand against a Portuguese charge." The history 
of Oriental wars for the last forty years had served to demon- 
strate that fact. 

On this occasion it again proved true. The whole of that 
long day each captain in his turn led out his men to hurl them- 
selves upon the foe, and every time the M oslems were borne 
back. But it was a deadly game for a handful to play against a 
multitude. Each sortie cost the lives of several men, and even 

14S 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

from the first all returned wounded. Dom Cristovao, shot by 
an arquebus in the leg, continued to encourage all and show 
a cheerful face, while seeming to be everywhere at once. "It 
is on such days/* says Castanhoso, "that captains show what 
they are made of. I know of no words to describe his courage, 
nor do they exist." It does not occur to this hero-worshipper 
that much' the same might have been said about himself or 
his companions. Not one hung back though they all knew it 
was a desperate situation. They had no reserves from which 
to replace anybody who feD, whereas each time the Moslem 
ranks were broken, fresh men stepped forth to fill the gap. 
With all their efforts, the Portuguese could hardly keep the 
enemy outside their camp. It was like a hunted animal at bay 
attempting to hold off the hounds. 

Bullets and cannon-balls already fell right into the Queen's 
tent. Sabla Vangel, weeping bitterly, still played a worthy 
part. She and her ladies worked hard all day long, attending 
to the wounded, and while they tied up bandages two women 
were hit. 

The captains, with fewer men each time, charged farther 
and more furiously. Francisco de Abreu, in his turn, was killed. 
Inofre de Abreu rushed forward to seize his brother's corpse 
and was himself shot down. "Thus both remained upon the 
field." 

Dom Crist6vao gathered his men and led them out once 
more. "Truly if we had had those horses,** Castanhoso thinks, 
"the victory would have been ours. . . . Every time we 
charged the enemy, we drove them like sheep. But we were 
already so exhausted that we could not keep it up." The num- 
ber of horses that they had available were only eight. If the 
eighty captured in the Simen Mountains had arrived in time, it 
would have made a difference. 

Dom Crist6vao returned from his last charge with his right 
arm shattered and nearly all his men wounded or slain, for 
"you cannot make war without shedding blood.* Joao da Fon- 
seca and Francisco Velho, who sallied forth successively, each 

144 



Granycs Revenge 

from a different side, each in his turn was killed. Of Dom Cris- 
tovao's five captains one only survived. 

The long day was declining. A few crippled and wounded 
men still gathered at the barricades and tried to keep the 
enemy from entering the camp. "Twice we threw them out" 
but such a defence could not be sustained. Even the least 
wounded were so exhausted that they could hardly lift their 
arms, and it would be impossible to lead another charge, 

"The Patriarch, when he saw this, mounted a mule and 
rode off to the mountain range behind." Caspar Correa puts it 
more unkindly, for he says: "The Patriarch ran away." Dom 
Joao Bermudez was no coward, but he was intensely practical. 
Retreat into the mountains was the sole solution to the situa- 
tion, and, having decided that, he did not feel called upon to 
wait until Dom Cristovao had made up his mind. 

Dom Cristovao was not easy to convince. A veteran warrior 
may see no shame in retreat before an ovenvhehning force, 
after a heroic resistance, but to Dom Cristovao's youth it 
seemed disgraceful to abandon one's position to the enemy. 
He wanted to die fighting on the barricades, wielding his 
sword in his left hand. 

His companions reasoned with him. If he would insist on 
staying, then naturally they would stay too, and die with him, 
but, after all, what was the use? There was nobody who could 
fight any more; it would amount to suicide. Far better to reas- 
semble and recover in the mountains and be ready then to 
carry on the war and to repair the damage done. To these ar- 
guments Sabla Vangel added her tears. She, for one, was go- 
ing, and she begged that they would go with her. 

Dom Crist6vao, almost by force, was led away upon a mule, 
for by this time he could hardly have walked. But he felt that 
he was humiliated for all time. The Moslems did not interfere 
with their departure. The Turks were already entering the 
camp, but their minds were wholly centred upon loot 

In the darkness, on the mountain paths, it was not possible 
to keep together. Each man stumbled along as best he could. 

145 



The Land of Prcster John 

The battle had left nobody unscathed, so "though some could 
get on better than the others, it was very hard for all/* 

Miguel de Castanhoso, wounded in several places and with 
his left arm smashed by an arquebus discharge, took up his 
post beside the Queen. "She had always been my special 
charge," he explains simply, "and I would not leave her at a 
moment of such peril, though I could not be of much use.** 
With about thirty other men, they trailed away into the night. 

Dom Cristovao would make no haste to reach the moun- 
tains. He did not much care what became of him. So many of 
his brave comrades were dead, but he had not had the luck 
to die with them! And he had lost his flag the flag that his 
brother had so earnestly committed to his care. He had been 
told to die in its defence, and it was gone, and he was still 
alive. His honour was tarnished for ever, and his father's glo- 
rious name dragged in the dust. He never could return to 
Portugal again. In vain his friends argued with him. He was 
in no mood to appreciate their arguments. It is difficult to 
keep a right sense of proportion when, after a day of desperate 
effort without food or rest, preceded by a sleepless night after 
a strenuous march, one has a bullet in the leg and a shattered 
right arm hanging useless at one's side. Dom Cristovao could 
not be made to see that he was not disgraced. 

All night long Dom Cristovao and his thirteen companions 
wandered blindly on the mountain-side. Towards morning 
they reached a deep-wooded gorge, at the bottom of which 
there flowed a little water. As all were more or less worn out, 
they decided to rest here awhile and to bind up one another's 
wounds. They had no healing ointments to apply and so they 
killed the mule on which Dom Crist6vao rode, and used the 
creature's fat. 

That night the Moslems revelled in the abandoned Chris- 
tian camp. The plunder had proved rather disappointing. 
There were indeed two chests of Dom Cristdvao's clothes, but 
the King of Zeila kept these for himself. His subordinates, ex- 
ploring the Queen's tent, discovered several barrels of gun- 

146 



Grange's Revenge 

powder there, and forty entirely helpless wounded men. The 
victorious Moslems were pleased with this last find. After a 
battle Turks and Arabs liked to have a little relaxation, and 
captives usually provided that. It was great fun to torture 
wounded men, and all the warriors joinedf the game with zest. 

One of their victims, awaiting his turn, lay watching with a 
ghastly smile. It had just occurred to him that he might add 
his contribution to the sport. He could see a lighted fusee on 
the ground. Laboriously he dragged himself alonn until he 
reached it. One more effort, and the fire was flung straight into 
the gunpowder. A deafening noise then rent the night as, in 
the twinkling of an eye, captors and captives all were swal- 
lowed up in flame. 

While their companions plundered and tormented and 
went up in smoke, twelve Turks and twenty Arabs beat the 
countryside in search of Dom Cristovao. They had almost 
given up the hunt when, in the uncertain light of dawn, an 
old black woman crept out of the bush and crossed their path. 
The Moslems made for her at once, thinking that she might 
give them information, but like a frightened animal she scut- 
tled off and disappeared into the scrub. The Turks tracked the 
elusive creature in and out, from bush to bush, until she came 
into the open and began to run. She plunged into the ravine 
where Dom Crist6vao and his friends were resting, and her 
pursuers followed in full cry. That old woman," says Castan- 
hoso with conviction, "was the Devil!* 

The Prophet had sent his messenger, declared the M oslems, 
especially to be their guide, for the black phajotom vanished 
from their sight within the valley but there was Dom Crist6- 
vao! They seized on him with shouts of joy and captured his 
companions, all but one, who, being only lightly wounded, 
managed to escape. Much elated, the Turks and Arabs turned 
back to the camp, enlivening the way by plucking Dom Cris- 
t6vao*s beard and spitting in his eyes. 

Grany, in occupation of his f oeman's tent, was happily col- 
lecting heads of Portuguese. He paid well for each one that 

147 



The Land of Prcster John 

was brought him, and more than eighty were already gathered 
in. These he proudly exhibited to his prisoner. "With such 
heads you meant to take my kingdom from me," he sneered. 
"For your boldness I will do you great honour!" 

The King of Zeila then proceeded to enjoy himself. He had 
Dom Cristovao stripped naked, with his hands tied behind 
from a rope round his neck. The captive first was cruelly 
flogged, then Grany4 ordered his black slaves to take off their 
sandals and beat Dom Cristovao's face with them. The next 
game was malang wax candles out of his beard and setting 
them alight. At last, with a sinister smile, Granye produced 
the tweezers which Dom Cristovao had sent him the year be- 
fore. "We don't use these," he observed pleasantly, "but I kept 
them for you." The young man's eyebrows and eyelashes then 
were plucked out hair by hair, which process his tormentors 
varied by tweaking out small bits of flesh. Dom Crist6vao, his 
face streaming with blood, made no protest. However painful 
this might be, he preferred it to the mental agony he had en- 
dured before. Now he knew that he would not return to Portu- 
gal dishonoured. To be tortured to death by the Moors would 
mean a martyr's crown, so, after all, his family was not dis- 
graced. *He thanked God/* we are told, "for bringing him to 



When Granye had made merry to his hearth content, he 
considered that his captains ought to have their turn. The 
patient victim was led from tent to tent, tormented and abused 
in every one. To jerk the cord which bound his hands to his 
neck behind, so making him fall down, was the delight of 
every humorous Turk, They would beat him then until he 
rose. This show had to be repeated many times before it 
palled 

Tlifly did get tired of him at last, and so restored him to 
Graay6, who ordered that he should be dressed in filthy rags. 

Tf you wffl fight for me and send for your comrades to join 
you, you shall be pardoned and granted your life, 9 * the King 
of Zeiksaid, "and I will treat you weH* 

148 



Granye's Revenge 

answered his captive proudly, "if you knew the 
Portuguese you would not speak vain words. You can do what 
you like with me, for I am in your power, but know for certain 
that if you gave me half your kingdom I would not bring a 
single Portuguese to you/ The Portuguese will not live with 
Moors, who are vile and enemies to the holy faith of Christ, 
my Lord." 

'Granye, beside himself, whipped out his sword for sole reply 
and smote off Dom Cristovao's head. 

They buried him under a heap of stones, with a dead dog 
by his side. 

Why had Granye slain the captain of the Portuguese? the 
Turks demanded wrathfully. They had meant to take him liv- 
ing as a gift for the Grand Turk. There was nothing that the 
Sultan would have prized so much. They departed in high 
dudgeon for Arabia, bearing Dom Cristovao's head with them, 
and all the prisoners but one, who had escaped. It was this 
man who told the tale of Dom Crist6vao's fate. His twelve 
companions, carried off to nameless prisons in the desert, have 
never been heard of from that day to this. 

Just over fourteen months had passed since Dom Cristovao 
had led his men inland from Massawa. In that time he had re- 
conquered a hundred leagues of territory for Prester John. He 
had come as a deliverer to a people without hope, and shown 
them that their enemy was not invincible. Twice the King of 
Zeila's mighty host had fled before his face, and he had 
wrested from the Moslems those strongholds that barred the 
Emperor's path. When Galawdewos returned to the fight, he 
no longer had to face the morale of an undefeated foe. 

Dom Crist6vao had died, and half of his comrades were 
dead, but they had cleared the way. 




Ethiopia Delivered 





Sabla Vangel with her women rode ahead, weeping, upon her 
mule. Her weary escort struggled on behind, and at the tail 
of the whole sad procession followed ten or twelve wounded 
men who could only just walk. Two friends named Fernam 
Cardoso and Lopo de AIman9a, having had the good luck to 
be only lightly hurt, had constituted themselves guardians of 
these crippled ones and were helping them along. 

Progress was necessarily slow, and already the fierce morn- 
ing sun shone high over the hills when, looking round, they 
saw they were pursued by a band of Moslems led by two 
Arabs on horseback. 

Fernam Cardoso and Lopo de Almanga were determined 
that their charges must be saved at any cost. "Go ahead," they 
told them, "and hide if possible. We shall stay and defend 
you till we die," 

Grasping their shields and lances, the two brave men turned 
back to meet the Moors. 

The riders curveted up to the spot, and were perhaps some- 
what surprised to find only two men when from afar it had 
appeared to be a party on the move. They must have suspected 
an ambush, for they reined in their horses at a little distance 
and from thence they summoned the companions to sur- 
render. 

150 



Ethiopia Delivered 

Fernam Cardoso and Lopo de Almanga took rapid stock 
of the situation. The horsemen were only two, but they had a 
detachment of infantry fast coming on behind. "'Even before 
arriving within range of lance or sword, the Moors could de- 
stroy them by stones and arrows." The wounded comrades, 
happily, were out of sight and possibly had not been seen at 
all. It seemed that the best way to protect them would be to 
surrender, for then the Moslems would most likely turn back 
with their prisoners and, "even if the Moors put them to tor- 
ture, they would not confess that there were other Portuguese 
ahead." 

Lopo de Almanga knew a little Arabic. He shouted to the 
horsemen to approach and take their arms. 

Then a strange thing happened. Castanhoso is quite con- 
vinced that "Our Lady inspired them." 

They must have recollected suddenly the fate of other pris- 
oners on past occasions, for it appears that both exclaimed in 
the same breath: "Santa Maria! With our own weapons they 
will loll us!" Saying these words, they charged the men on 
horseback who were near, and overthrew them both one 
dead, the other wounded in the arm. **When their riders fell, 
the horses stood stock still, and the foot soldiers, though nu- 
merous, began to run away, which clearly seemed to be a 
miracle." 

Fernam Cardoso and Lopo de Almanga did not remain to 
wonder at it. Each leaped into an empty saddle and, seeing 
the enemy turn tail, they also turned about and galloped after 
their companions, who had despaired of seeing them again. 
Hoisting the weakest ones onto their horses* backs, our pala- 
dins related their exploit, which, if not exactly in accordance 
with the rules of chivalrous warfare, was, in the circum- 
stances, not unpardonable. 

Their tale was heard with joy and wonder, and aH came to 
the same conclusion that "Our Lady, seeing their good inten- 
tion, had come to their aid. . . ." 

"Thus these two men saved their companions and all those 

151 



The Land of Prcster John 

who went ahead, for if the Moors had followed after, all would 
have been killed, none having weapons to defend themselves." 

The broken remains of Dom Cristovao's army gathered to- 
gether on the mountain-side. The thirty men with the horses 
from the Falasha country met them there too late and 
heard about the tragedy that their arrival possibly might have 
averted. Meanwhile the Queen sent scouts to comb the ranges 
and find out news of Dom Crist6vao. To have no idea of his 
fate "is what we minded most, the more so that we knew 
he was severely wounded." 

This suspense was not prolonged. The man who had es- 
caped from the Turks in the valley soon appeared, and was 
followed shortly by the fugitive who had witnessed Dom 
Crist6vao's death. "At w r hich news we felt all that may be 
imagined." 

Sabla Vangel mourned for her young champion as if for 
a son, but she did not forget the survivors who had fought so 
well. "She sent for all of us and made a speech, consoling us 
for our great loss and our contrary fortune, and this in very 
discreet and virtuous words." 

At wearing a brave face in adversity her listeners were not 
to be outdone. "We asked the Patriarch to answer her for us 
and to encourage her. . . . She was pleased, and said that 
the resolution of the Portuguese was very great." 

It was about a hundred of them who now rallied around the 
Queen. Another fifty were reported to have wandered with 
Manuel da Cmiha into the mountains of the Bahr Nagach. Of 
the 400 Portuguese who had left Massawa in 1541, no more 
survived. 

Sabla Vangel, with her allies, decided to await the Emperor 
in the Simen Mountains. There they realized the value of the 
last conquest that Dom Cristovao had achieved before he 
died. These mountains over which the Emperor had to pass 
were natural fortresses enclosing fertile valleys where an army 
could recover and refit, supplied by the friendly Falashas with 
all that they might need. Prester'john himself arrived there 

152 



Ethiopia Delivered 

ten days later, but he brought "so few men with him that if 
Dom Cristovao had not conquered these mountains it would 
have been impossible for us to join him, nor would there have 
been any means of restoring the realm.** 

Galawdewos was inconsolable upon hearing of Dom Cristo- 
vao's death. He could not have shown more grief, we are told, 
for his own son and heir, but as the Emperor was six years 
younger than Dom Cristovao, the simile might have been 
more aptly chosen. 

Galawdewos was a grateful soul and felt that he could not 
do enough for the allies who had fought so heroically for him. 
They must never count themselves as strangers in his land, 
he said. Let them consider everything as theirs, and the king- 
dom as belonging to the King of Portugal, his brother. He 
distributed mules to everyone and clothed them all in silk. 

Though the Portuguese were now so few in number, their 
presence at the Emperor's side had an astonishing effect upon 
native morale. Galawdewos by himself had been almost aban- 
doned. Now that he had joined forces with a hundred Portu- 
guese, the mercurial aborigines came flocking to his flag. The 
Portuguese watched them arrive with increasing excitement, 
and "when we saw all those men assembled, we went to 
Prester John and begged him to help us to avenge the death 
of Dom Crist6vao." 

But Prester John still had a wholesome fear of his old 
enemy. He thought that the army was not yet strong enough 
to beard Grany. He was, however, persuaded to try his for- 
tune, provided that the Portuguese who had gone with the 
Bahr Nagach could be summoned in time. "Fifty Portuguese 
in that counfcy,** remarks Castanhoso complacently, "are a 
better reinforcement than a thousand natives. 3 * 

A messenger was therefore sent to search for Manuel da 
Cunha's party, and at the same time to fetch a good supply of 
extra weapons left by Dom Crist6vao in Sabla VangeFs citadel 
near Debaroa. While waiting, everyone turned to and made 
gunpowder. Sulphur and saltpetre abounded in the Simeu 

153 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

Mountains, and happily the specialist who understood the 
manufacture of explosives had survived, 

Prester John was in the end obliged to take the field without 
Manuel da Cunha and his fif ty men. They were found to be no 
longer with the Bahr Xagach. Believing all their comrades to 
be dead, they had gone down to Massawa, there to await the 
fleet. It was supposed that they had sailed for India. 

The Emperor raised his camp on February 6. He took with 
him 8,000 bowmen and 500 horse. In front of the whole army 
marched the 100 Portuguese. They refused to have a captain 
chosen from among their number. After the one that they had 
lost, they said, they could appoint no other. The Emperor 
could command them if he liked, and the flag of Our Lady of 
Mercy would be borne ahead to lead them on. Thus they de- 
parted full of enthusiasm, nor would the lame and crippled 
stay behind. All swore to be avenged upon the enemy or die 
in the attempt. The Emperor, on his side, offered his sister's 
hand in marriage to any Abyssinian who would bring him 
Grany^'s head, or if it were a Portuguese, a rich reward. 

All this time Grany6, quite happy and carefree, was with 
his wives and children on the east shores of Lake Tana. He 
knew that he had wiped the floor with Galawdewos the last 
time that they met, so he looked for no further trouble from 
that quarter. The Portuguese he was quite sure he had annihi- 
lated. Who, then, was left to challenge his supremacy? 

At harmony with life, therefore, Ahmed-ibn-Ibrahim el 
Ghazi enjoyed the pleasures of his harem and his home until 
one day, over the mountain crest, an army hove in sight and 
camped before him. It was no other than the Emperor, he was 
informed the Emperor and the Portuguese! As Ahmed had 
supposed there were no Portuguese in Abyssinia by this time, 
to see them reappear was something of a shock. He and his 
men prepared themselves for battle, "for they could see that 
we were bent upon revenge.** 

Prester John still hankered after those fifty men from Mas- 
sawa. The latest news was that they had not sailed, and even 

154 



Ethiopia Delivered 

now were travelling inland to join him. Galawdewos resolved 
to postpone action until they arrived. Meanwhile the armies 
gazed at each other and skirmished every day. The result was 
interesting to amateurs of feats of arms, but weakening to the 
forces of both sides. 

A celebrated Arab captain who commanded two hundred 
horse had daily passages with sixty mounted Portuguese. In 
the end he was killed at the game, "which was great loss for 
them." 

The Abyssinian cavalry was also in high fettle and anxious 
to show off to their allies. Especially their captain, Azmache 
Cafilom, "did marvels with his horsemen." 

Unhappily the gallant Azmache Cafilom had to do with an 
unsporting enemy. Granye's Turks hoisted the white flag one 
day and said they had a message for the Abyssinian com- 
mander. As he rode to the trystiiig-place, Azmache Cafilom 
saw only two Moslems advancing to meet him. Like a gentle- 
man he bade his followers hang back and went forward him- 
self with only two. While the fictitious messengers held him 
in conversation, some hidden arquebusiers shot him down. 
The Turks had horses ready and galloped away before the 
startled Abyssinians could pick up their dead commander. 
There were wails and lamentations in the Emperor's camp, for 
Azmache Cafilom was married to Galawdewos's own cousin. 

Abyssinian troops appear to have been very temperamen- 
tal. They could show great bravery on the battlefield when all 
was going well, but the courage that will die for a lost cause 
was seldom theirs. They were so dismayed on this occasion 
by their captain's death that many resolved to slip away, "for 
\ictory seemed impossible to them." 

This jerked the Emperor into action. He sent for the Portu- 
guese and asked them to prepare for battle the next day. It 
was no good waiting any longer for Manuel da Cunha. Galaw- 
dewos knew that if the fight were long deferred his army 
would dissolve and fade away. 

The Portuguese were ready. Dawn found them praying be- 

155 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

fore the flag of the Santa Misericordia, "asking God to have 
mercy on us, and to grant us vengeance and victory over our 
foes." A general confession was said and absolution pro- 
nounced by a priest, and so they placed themselves in the 
front line of the vanguard. Two hundred and fifty Abyssinian 
horsemen went with them, and 3,500 foot soldiers followed. 
According to Castanhoso, the Ethiopian army numbered all 
together 8,500 men. 

"The soldiers of Galawdew r os were few, like those of 
Gideon," says the more poetic Ethiopian chronicle. As for the 
King of Zeda's army, "They were like multitudes of locusts, 
and even exceeded them, for their number was thousands of 
thousands, and millions of millions, all ready for the fight, as 
strong as lions and swift as eagles. . . * The Moslems were 
from twelve to fourteen thousand men, the Portuguese records 
inform us with the colder realism of the European, 

In the King of Zeila's vanguard marched 6,000 infantry, 
600 horse, and the famous 200 Turkish arquebusiers. The 
Pasha of Zebid was obliged by treaty to keep his corps up to 
that strength, but the other Turks who had fought in the pre- 
vious battle, as we have seen, were angry with Granye for 
killing Dom Cristovao, and so had left him and did not return. 

The sight of those 200 Turks made the Portuguese see red. 
Led by their sixty horsemen, they hurled themselves like tigers 
upon these arquebusiers and made great devastation in their 
ranks. The Abyssinians, easily inflamed if easily cast down, 
followed with enthusiasm, and the Moslem vanguard was 

fetting the worst of it when Grany6 rode up accompanied 
y his small son, "How many years have I persecuted them?" 
he cried to those around, "And shall they stand before my 
face today?" 

The tough old warrior exposed his person recklessly and 
soon was recognized. Every Portuguese arquebusier took aim 
at once, and Grany fell across his saddle-bow, shot through 
die chest. Mortally wounded, he was borne away upon his 

156 



|j)o Prcftc 3oam oae indiag. 




JDcrdadera informa^am oae terras tx> prcftc 

raodfcoSltiarc} topdll 6tl e? nolTo 



FRONTISPIECE OF THE FIRST EDITION OF FATHER 
FRANCISCO ALVARES'S BOOK ON ETHIOPU 



Ethiopia Delivered 

panic-stricken horse while a young Ethiopian galloped wildly 
after. 

The Moslems, seeing their leader fall, lost nerve and fled 
except the Turks, whose captain especially "fought like a 
valiant knight" With his sleeves rolled up and brandishing a 
great axe in hand, he held all enemies at bay, hewing a wide 
space all around him. Five Abyssinian horsemen vainly set on 
him at once. They could neither kill him nor make him sur- 
render. He snatched the lance from one of them and slashed 
through the legs of another's horse "so that they did not dare 
approach him/* 

A Portuguese, Joao Fernandez, charged him with a lance. 
The Turk, though wounded by the thrust, caught the lance in 
his hand and held it in a grip of iron, while with his axe he 
cut the sinews of Joao Fernandez's leg. Joao Fernandez drefw 
his sword and killed the Turk, but remained lame for life. 

Meanwhile the King of Zeila's army fled, hody pursued 
"principally by the Portuguese, who could not be sated in 
avenging Dom Cristovao's death." It was the Turks who paid 
the heaviest toll. Of the 200 who had marched to the battle, 
Castanhoso tells us grimly that only forty survived. 

Granye's wife, with 300 horsemen, fled from his camp, bear- 
ing away the treasure that her husband had once taken from 
the Emperor. Nobody noticed her departure, for all were bent 
on putting Moslems to the sword. Only the women and chil- 
dren were spared, and these were carried off into captivity. 
Many Christian women were discovered among their num- 
ber, "which caused the greatest joy. 79 Some Ethiopians found 
their long-lost sisters, some their daughters or their wives, and 
"such was their delight that they came to loss our feet and 
gave us all the credit of the victory, saying that it was thanks 
to us that they had regained their freedom." 

Amid all these rejoicings a youth on horseback galloped up. 
A gory head was swinging by its hair held fast between the 
rider's teeth. This was the young man who had followed after 



The Land of Prestcr John 

Granye. He had overtaken him and dealt the final blow, and 
now he brought the head and claimed the Emperor's sister 
for his bride. 

The Emperor examined the trophy with a searching eye, 
"There is only one ear!" said he suspiciously. ""Where is the 
other ear?" At this a Portuguese stepped forward and pro- 
duced the missing organ from his pocket. 

They tried it on the head, and lo! they found that it fitted 
the place. "The King," says the Ethiopian chronicle, "then 
ordered that King man of Ethiopia to hand over Granye's 
adornments to the Frank." 

Castanhoso makes no mention of this ghoulish little inci- 
dent of the severed ear. He says that Galawdewos would not 
recognize the claim of the youth who had brought him 
Granye's head. The King of Zeila, he declared, already was 
wounded to death when the Ethiopian had launched in pur- 
suit. He could not pretend that he had slain him, and the 
mere removal of the Moslem captain's head did not deserve 
the hand of an Imperial princess! The true author of Granye's 
death could only be a Portuguese, for Abyssinians did not 
handle arquebuses, but as nobody could tell for certain who 
had aimed the fatal shot, no one could have the prize. 

Grany6*s head, impaled upon a lance, was carried to rejoice 
the heart of Queen Sabla Vangel. Thence it was borne in 
triumph all around the realm that people might believe their 
enemy was dead. It was a happy day for Abyssinia. 

The war ended with Granye's death, for the heterogeneous 
host that followed him had no cohesion. In the words of the 
Ethiopian chronicle, the moment that their leader was no 
more, "his troops dispersed like smoke and like the cinders 
of an oven.** 

The Emperor's army did exactly the reverse. In a few weeks 
its number had increased to 26,000 men. All the deserters 
who had followed Grany6 in his victorious days now coolly 
returned to their old allegiance, quite ready with "the poor 
excuses of* a disloyal people," says Castanhoso scornfully. 

158 



Ethiopia Delivered 

Galawdewos cut off a few heads, but pardoned most of the 
traitors. He could not very well do otherwise, "for if he had 
put all to death, he would have had no men left* 

The Bahr Nagach's father blandly presented himself. This 
simple soul had adhered to the King of Zeila tk because it 
seemed to him that the realm would never be restored/' He 
had won the favour of Granye, \vho appointed him as pre- 
ceptor to his son. Now that, contrary to all expectations, the 
Abyssinian Empire was restored, the elderly opportunist was 
not dismayed. He calmly sent to beg the Emperor's pardon 
and offeree! to hand over his young charge. 

Galawdewos hesitated, but the Bahr Nagach pleaded for 
his old scalawag of a parent. In recognition of the son's loyal 
services the father was eventually forgiven and he cheerfully 
delivered Granye's son into captivity. 

There was one renegade captain who did not fare so well. 
The Portuguese discovered that he was one of those who had 
captured Dom Cristovao, and they protested loudly against 
his pardon. Galawdewos was distressed. Had he known of 
this, he said, he would not have granted the man his life, Hav- 
ing once done so, however, he could not break his word 
but, he added significantly, he would like to see that man torn 
to pieces by a lion! 

The Portuguese did not require a broader hint Without 
discussing the matter further, they sought the tent of the 
renegade and promptly stabbed him. His death, we are in- 
formed, "did not grieve Prester John.** 

Easter was passed beside Lake Tana, where Castanhoso for 
the first time in his life saw hippopotamuses. This beast, in 
retrospect, loomed large in his imagination. They are the 
size of horses," he writes, "and the shape and colour of ele- 
phants. They have excessively large heads and a very wide 
mouth with many teeth above and below like those of ser- 
pents. On the lower jaw they have two great pointed teeth. 
When this animal opens its mouth, it is astonishing, for truly 
an average-sized man standing upon the lower jaw would not 

159 



The Land of Prester John 

reach the upper with his head, and two men together could go 
into its mouth/' 

By this far inland late Europeans and Africans joined hap- 
pily together for the Easter celebrations. A very effective pro- 
cession was organized in which the Portuguese walked hilly 
armed, firing off their arquebuses and the captured Turkish 
artillery, as well as other gunpowder devices made for the 
occasion. The Emperor was delighted with the lovely noise. 

On the anniversary of Dom Crist6vao's death, a great me- 
morial service was held for him and all the Portuguese who 
had laid down their lives for Abyssinia. Masses were said 
with many candles, and six thousand poor were fed and 
clothed that day. 

During the whole of 1543 the Portuguese travelled about 
with the Emperor. They taught him the European style of 
riding, and he adopted many European customs, we are told. 

As they followed Prester John across his realm from end to 
end, the Portuguese saw and heard a number of strange 
things. What appears to have struck Castanhoso most were 
the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela. Each one was cut out 
of a single rock "with two very lofty naves, pillars, and domes, 
all carved from the same stone without a join, and the high 
altar and other altars were also cut out of the rock. . . . Each 
church is about the size of Sao Francisco of Evora in Portugal 
. . . and I measured the smallest . . . and found it to be 
fifty paces wide.** 

Long ago so local tradition ran a saintly white King 
came from foreign lands and caused these sanctuaries to be 
hewn out of stone. Every day an ell of rock was broken by 
the workmen's pickaxes, and every morning it was found that 
in the night the Lord had done three more. Thus the churches 
took shape and grew out of the mountain-side, and when the 
last one was completed, then the strange King died a holy 
death. They showed us where he lay buried, and all took 
earth out of the sepulchre to keep as relics.** The visitors were 
also shown some torn and ancient parchments covered with 

10) 



Ethiopia Delivered 

an unknown script almost effaced by age. They thought that 
we could read them," Castanhoso says. 

The monks Irving there, moreover,' told the tale of how the 
King of Zeila would have turned these churches into mosques, 
but when two Moors on horseback attempted to enter one, 
their horses fell down dead. 

Leaving these holy heights nimbed with an aureole of 
miracle and legend, 'the Emperor descended to the plains 
of Fatagar. He had re-established his authority in all the 
country that Granye had conquered, and the tour ended here, 
among the Moslem tribes that formerly were subject to the 
Abyssinian crown. Gakwdewos accepted their submission to 
his rule again and took the customary tribute. 

After that, says Castanhoso, there was nothing more to do. 
He, for one, began to think about getting away. His wounded 
arm had never ceased giving trouble. It would not heal, and 
no surgeon was available in Abyssinia* He begged for leave to 
go to Massawa and there await the fleet. 

Prester John was much perturbed. Not only was he loath to 
part with any of the Portuguese who had helped him so loy- 
ally, but as the King of Zefla had deprived him of his treasure, 
he was in no position to bestow rewards. "He was king of 
nothing except much land and many provisions. . . . He 
often told me not to leave until he could reward me, because 
it was slighting him to go before, and he was greatly grieved 
at my departure.** 

Castanhoso insisted. He said that he probably would die of 
his old wound if something was not done about it. He could 
not obtain treatment in Abyssinia, so he must go to India. 

In the circumstances Galawdewos could not decently de- 
tain him any more. Reluctantly he gave him leave to go, and 
fifty other Portuguese decided to depart at the same time. 

'Then the Emperor sent for all the gold and silver in the 
churches of the fend, and added to it all the jewels and brace- 
lets of his womenfolk. He apologized for having nothing more 
to give. He assured the Portuguese that he would make their < 

161 



The Land of Prcster John 

fortunes if they would only wait. There was a province on the 
confines of his realm to which Negroes came from far away 
in caravans with sacks of gold which they bartered for linen 
cloths. He suggested that the Portuguese should go with him 
and conquer these gold-mines. 

But they refused the concrete gold and silver that he 
pressed upon them, nor were they tempted by the distant El 
Dorado depicted by him* They had not come into this land in 
search of any gain, they said, only to serve God and their 
King. 

And so they left, empty-handed as they had arrived, with 
the flag of Holy Mercy still leading the w r ay. 

At Massawa, just one small foist appeared, commanded by 
a Diogo do Reinoso. He had been sent to find out news of the 
Abyssinian expedition, but in India it was believed that all 
were dead. The little ship was full of soldiers and could not 
take on fifty more men. As few could go, it was decided that 
they all should stay except Miguel de Castanhoso, whose need 
was the most urgent. He promised to entreat the Governor 
to send a ship for them, and if the Governor failed to do so, 
he would apply to the King. 

"Next day, at dawn, on Sunday, February 16, 1544, 1 em- 
barked, leaving my companions greatly desirous of doing 
likewise. After saying good-bye very sadly, they remained 
praying before a crucifix they bore upon the flag, after which, 
with many tears, they mounted their mules and rode away 
inland. . . 

"And we set sail for India, where by Our Lord God's 
will we arrived safely on April 19. 

"May it please Our Lord to remember me and bring them 
back in peace to Portugal." 

But most of them died in exile. 



162 



PART III 
TEE PARTING OF THE WAYS 




Heresy and Schism 




|^s> 

SSSc/S* 



I entreat you for the sake of Our Lord Jesus Christ's death 
and Passion, and by the great mercy of Our Lady, His blessed 
mother, that you will not let me die in your realm." So wrote 
the unhappy Saga Zaab to Dom Joao III, on July 12, 1536. 
He expected to die soon, he added mournfully, for he was "ill 
and very sad." 

At the same time Padre Francisco Alvares was begging not 
to be allowed to die at Rome, But the powers upon the throne 
and at the Vatican continued to keep both envoys hanging 
on. Francisco Alvares, it seems, actually died in Italy, but 
Saga Zaab must have set sail in 1539 with Dom Joao Ber- 
mudez. 

Poor Saga Zaab had been a solitary figure at the court of 
Portugal. Neglected by the King, badgered by theologians 
who were anxious to test his orthodoxy, and desperately 
homesick, he remained in Europe for twelve years that must 
have seemed like an eternity to him. But at least he made one 
friendship which does him great credit that of the humanist 
Damiao de Gois. The brilliant scholar, a pupil of Erasmus, 
steeped in the culture of the classics, and newly returned 
from Europe's chief centres of learning, appears to have 
formed a genuine esteem and attachment for tne black monk 
educated in the isolated mountains of Ethiopia. 

165 



The Land of Prester John 

Damiao de Gois was one of those wide-open, inquiring in- 
tellects which the Renaissance produced before the Inquisi- 
tion had had time to clip their wings. Regardless of the host 
of troubles that he was laying up for his old age, his youth 
was wholly spent in tracking knowledge down whatever 
paths the quest might lead. The same spirit of universalism 
which had already brought him into friendly intercourse with 
Luther and Melancthon as his brother intellectuals now in- 
duced him to investigate the tenets of the Abyssinian Church 
with great curiosity. 

Damiao de Gois's interest in the land of Prester John was 
of long standing. It must have dated from the year 1514 when, 
as a twelve-year-old page at Dom Manuel's court, he had 
witnessed Matthew's arrival from India. The boy cannot fail 
to have heard how the envoy's religion had been examined 
by the doctors of the Church before the King. When, seven- 
teen years later, he found at the house of a Portuguese at 
Antwerp a copy of the Armenian's replies, Damiao de Gois 
had seized upon the document with great interest. He trans- 
lated it into Latin then and there and published it in 1532. 
On meeting Saga Zaab in Lisbon shortly after, he showed him 
this work and asked for further information. 

Saga Zaab studied his predecessor's declarations critically. 
It was clear, he said, that Matthew was no theologian. The 
Church's doctrines were imperfectly defined by him. This 
was, however, what might be expected of a layman and a 
foreigner. The better instructed Saga Zaab would write a 
correct exposition for his friend. 

Damiao de Gois left for Italy before the work was finished, 
but the Abyssinian did not forget his promise. He wrote out 
a detailed profession of his faith and sent it on to Padua. 

Damiao de Gois was delighted with the treatise, nor did its 
heterodoxy shock him in the least. That broad-minded tol- 
erance which had enabled him* a Roman Catholic, to feel no 
horror in the company of German heresiarchs permitted him 
to read, without turning a hair, of circumcision practised in 

166 



Heresy and Schism 

the Abyssinian Church, the sanctifying of Saturday, and 
other rites which smacked of Judaism. He found it all ex- 
tremely interesting; he translated it into Latin under the title 
of Fides, religio, moresque sEthiopum, and he gaily pub- 
lished the treatise. 

It appeared in 1540 at Louvain the first authoritative ex- 
position of the teaching of the Abyssinian Church. It is true 
that Saga Zaab had set them forth in slightly attenuated form. 
Deliberately, or unconsciously, he had skated over definitions 
of the Trinity, and no Eutychian doctrines are presented in 
his work. It has been suggested that Saga Zaab, isolated as he 
was, would have been careful to avoid any dangerous stone 
of dissension, but what he said was quite enough to scan- 
dalize the Grand Inquisitor. Many rites and ceremonies dis- 
countenanced by the Latin Church, but practised from time 
immemorial in Abyssinia, were not only described but de- 
fended by him. 

The Cardinal Infante Dom Henrique, Grand Inquisitor of 
Portugal, would never have agreed with Padre Francisco Al- 
vares that "God was willing to be served in different ways." 
He shook his head in disapproval over the Fides, religio* 
moresque dEthicpum and placed a ban upon the work. He 
wrote to Damiao de Gois to say that he had done so, much to 
that learned man's surprise. What harm was there in publish- 
ing the treatise? asked the puzzled intellectual. He could not 
see how anyone would be the worse for being told about 
religious customs in Ethiopia. 

The Cardinal thought that such an attitude was risky. He 
wrote back kindly but very firmly. He had not ceased, said 
he, to regard Damiao de Gois "as a good man and a good 
Christian/* but in view of the fact that the Holy Inquisition 
was newly established in Portugal, one could not be too care- 
ful. It was necessary to guard against any laxity in these bad 
times, with so much heresy abroad. Thus Fides, religto, 
moresque was suppressed, after having been subjected to the 
lynxlike scrutiny of the greatest theologians in the land. 

167 



The Land of Prcster John 

The curious part is that for over twenty years no one had 
troubled much about the difference between the Latin and 
the Abyssinian Churches, It is doubtful whether laymen left 
to themselves would even have been seriously disturbed by 
it. Pero da Covilham, the men of Dom Rodrigo de Lima's 
embassy, Dom Cristovao da Gama and his companions, all 
seem to have accepted the Ethiopians as their brothers in the 
faith. However different externals might appear, the funda- 
mental truths appeared the same. Their Holy Scriptures were 
identical, as was their belief in the fall of man and subsequent 
redemption by Our Lord. The two Churches kept many of 
the same feasts, professed the same devotion to the Virgin, 
reverenced the same saints; and both worshipped Three Per- 
sons in One God. As for their different definition of the Sec- 
ond Person of the Trinity, it does not seem that anybody 
noticed it. The average layman does not probe very deeply 
into the mysteries expounded in the Athanasian Creed, and 
it is improbable that it would have occurred to Dom Cris- 
t6vao*s soldiers or to their Ethiopian colleagues to discuss 
together the dual nature of Our Lord. Each saw the other 
bow before Him as the world's Redeemer, and they were 
quite satisfied with that. Castanhoso, Castanheda, and Gas- 
par Correa all describe curious religious rites and ceremonies 
practised by Ethiopians, but none of these writers ever call 
them heretics* 

Neither does Father Francisco Alvares, a priest, apply that 
term. He was the best of friends with the Abuna and did not 
hesitate to worship in the Abyssinian Church. Though cer- 
tainly he disapproved of some things that he saw, he seldom 
seems to have been really shocked. He accepts the Abyssini- 
ans as true members of the Christian Church, and if their 
way of celebrating Mass seems strange to him, he consoles 
himself with the reflection that as all was done to the glory 
of God, all must be well . 

But times had changed since those far-off days when the 
men of Diego Lopes de Sequeira's fleet and the black monks 

168 



Heresy and Schism 

of Bizan had wept in one another's arms at Massawa, "joined 
in ties of spiritual brotherhood by the sign of the cross, \vhich 
filled them with faith and love and charity." The Europe to 
which Francisco Alvares returned was animated by a very 
different spirit. Faith flourished certainly, but love and char- 
ity were not in evidence. Christendom had become a seething 
cauldron of religious polemics. Inkpots were being emptied 
in controversy, while each rival theologian demolished the 
others* doctrines. While some countries shook off allegiance 
to the Church of Rome, in others that same Church was in 
full hue and cry pursuing Jews and Protestants. Even-where 
truth and error were being bitterly discussed, and heresy- 
hunting was the order of the day. 

Into the midst of all these burning questions was flung that 
of the Abyssinian Church. The most learned theologians had 
cross-questioned Saga Zaab, and they were not satisfied with 
his replies. They multiplied their conferences with him and 
concluded that he was unsound. Father Francisco's narrative, 
published in 1540, threw further discredit upon Abyssinian 
orthodoxy, and Fides, religio, moresque came to confirm the 
gravest fears. A list of errors was drawn up from the two 
books, and the damning total numbered forty-one. 

So the hideous truth gradually dawned. That Prester John's 
church was schismatic all had been aware. The distance and 
difficulty of communications had been blamed for that. Over- 
come the one, and facilitate the second, and it was assumed 
that Prester John would be quite happy to make submission 
to the Church of Rome. 

But the case was found to be far worse than a mere schism. 
There was heresy to be eradicated too. There was no getting 
away from it. Prester John, the supposed bulwark of the 
Christian faith, the upholder of the Gospel torch amid the 
night of Islam, the ally of whom Portugal had expected so 
much Prester John was a heretic! Thenceforward it would 
be necessary to face this painful fact 

The result was the Jesuit mission. 

168 




The Bishop Takes a Hand 




As Patriarch of Abyssinia, Joao Bermudez was not a success. 
Very shortly after joining each other, he and the Emperor had 
already fallen out. We only have Joao Bermudez's version of 
the quarrel. 

He says that he urged Galawdewos to make submission to 
the Pope as his father Lebna Dengel had done before. The 
young Emperor answered that his parent had done nothing 
of the land, and the discussion that ensued was lively. 

**You are not our Abuna, nor prelate of ours, 7 * the Emperor 
said to Dom Joao Bermudez, "only Patriarch of the Franks 
and, 7 * he added with a fine confusion of theology, "you are 
an Arian who has four gods." 

*And I told him that he lied. I was not Arian, and I had not 
four gods; but since he would not obey the Holy Father, I 
considered him as a cursed excommunicate." 

Tou are the excommunicate, not I," retorted the young 
man, and they parted in anger. 

It was not a promising beginning, and though that first tiff 
was made up, relations between the Emperor and the Patri- 
arch stiffened from day to day. 

Galawdewos was an intelligent young man with a passion 
for religious controversy, and it did not take him long to 
plumb Joao Bermudez's depths. "He has no learning at all/* 

170 



The Bishop Tafes a Hand 

is the verdict of an anonymous Portuguese contemporary, 
"and he chants the divine service with great difficulty, be- 
cause he knows no better." He never preaches, we are further 
told, "because he does not know how." In twelve years that 
he was with the Portuguese he neither said Mass nor yet con- 
fessed himself. In spite of this "he excommunicates and ab- 
solves very easily owing to his great lack of prudence." The 
Emperor kept him prisoner on an island for nearly a year be- 
cause he was exasperated by his ignorance. The Patriarch, it 
would appear, took the sacrament after the Abyssinian fash- 
ion, which, rather surprisingly, annoyed Galawdewos: "Since 
he had come to teach them," said the Emperor, "why should 
he use the native ceremonies?" 

It seems, however, that there were worse sins than those of 
ignorance to be laid at Dom Joao Bermudez's door. "He is," 
the same informant tells us, "a man covetous of temporal pos- 
sessions and extortionate of what is given for his main- 
tenance.** * 

When Castanhoso left for Portugal he carried a letter from 
Galawdewos to Dom Joao III complaining of the so-called 
Abuna's conduct. 

The King knew Dom Joao Bermudez. and his sympathy 
was for his royal colleague. "I am very displeased," he writes 
on March 13, 1546, "with the doings of Joao Bermudez, whom 
your father sent me as ambassador." The King promises to 
send to the Emperor a new Patriarch next year. This one 
would be a "person of such zeal and exemplary life that in all 
things he will serve Our Lord and give you satisfaction. You 
will be able to discuss together the affair of Joao Bermudez 
and come to what decision you think fit concerning him. 9 * 
Dom Joao is quite willing that the culprit should be punished 
"according to his errors." The King only recommends that 
the man's life should be spared out of regard for "that dignity 
of Patriarch which he had chosen to assume, though no one 
gave it to him.* Otherwise great discredit might be brought 
on Christendom. 

m 



The Land of Prester John 

Having thus washed his hands of Dom Joao Bermudez, the 
King wrote to the Pope and to Ignatius Loyola, requesting 
them to take charge of the spiritual welfare of Abyssinia. 

Ignatius Loyola would have loved to go himself had he 
been able to do so. He had to be content with selecting some 
of his best men, and composing an entirely tactful letter to 
the Emperor in which he explained at great length the unity 
of the Christian Church under the Roman See. "Your High- 
ness/* he points out, "should give Our Lord infinite thanks, 
that in the days of your fortunate reign He should have sent 
your devout people true pastors of souls, who are dependent 
upon the chief shepherd/* 

But His Highness was serenely unaware that either he or 
his devout subjects might need pastors from Rome or Portu- 

fal. He had already sent to Alexandria for a new Abuna, and 
anished Dom Joao Bermudez from his court. 
The discredited Patriarch wandered about the realm, curs- 
ibg the villages through which he passed. After several years 
of travel and adventure he came to Debaroa, waiting for an 
opportunity to sail for India. There, in 1555, he met a Jesuit 
priest, Father Gonalo Rodrigues, who told him that another 
Patriarch was on the way. Between the Abuna from Alexan- 
dria, already installed in Abyssinia, and the Patriarch from 
Portugal, Joao Nunes Barreto, who had reached India by that 
time, there was no room for Dom Joao Bermudez. He sailed 
for tidia and thence to Portugal, where he arrived in 1559. 
He lived near Lisbon in retirement for eleven years, finding 
solace in the composition of his more or less veracious mem- 
oirs. He enjoyed the favour of the boy King Sebastiao, to 
whom he must have had some thrilling tales to tell, and Diogo 
do Couto says that he died a very holy death. 

TTie Jesuits, meanwhile, were doing what they could for 
Abyssinia, but the good fathers found it uphill work. 

Padre Mestre Gon<jalo Rodrigues, referred to above, had 
been the first one to arrive. He was a zealous and learned 

172 



The Bishop Tafcs a Hand 

young man, who had been sent from Goa with a brother of 
the Company to announce the coming of a Patriarch next 
year. 

When the Emperor received this news he looked a little 
blank. How good of his brother Dom Joao, he murmured 
politely, to take so much trouble over these things! Galaw- 
dewos felt deeply grateful to the King of Portugal and was 
entirely at his service. The conversation fizzled out in empty 
compliments, and before Padre Gon$alo could get in another 
audience, the Emperor was seized with an urge to visit his 
grandmother. She lived a weeks journey away" and a month 
went by before her dutiful grandson could tear himself away 
from the old lady. But Padre Gongalo Rodrigues wasted no 
time. He stayed in the house of one of Dom Cristovao's late 
companions and there composed a treatise on "The Errors of 
Ethiopia and the Truth of Our Holy Faith." 

When Galawdewos was presented with this work, we are 
told that "he was filled with ire," Ethiopia had no errors, said 
he wrathfully. 

"Your Highness has none/* Padre Gon9alo answered with 
some tact, Tbut your subjects have.** 

This Galawdewos refused to admit How was it, he de- 
manded, that though their faith was of such ancient standing, 
no one had ever come before to say that they erred? 

"I replied," writes Father Confab, "that owing to man's sin 
Our Lord sometimes permits such things, but he ought to 
give thanks to God for having allowed him to be shown the 
evangelical truth." 

Galawdewos, however, was quite satisfied with evangelical 
truth as expounded by the Church of his forefathers. When 
asked if he would make submission to the Pope, he said em- 
phatically that he would not. As for the "learned and re- 
ligious men" that his brother of Portugal proposed to send 
him, what was the use? said he. He had learned and religious 
men in his own realm and so needed no others. Could the 

173 



The Land of Prestcr John 

Portuguese Patriarch not come to Abyssinia, then? Of course 
he could come if he wished, was the polite reply. The Em- 
peror would be very pleased to see him. 

Padre Gongalo Rodrigues felt that the situation was highly 
unsatisfactory. It seemed that Prester John would give more 
trouble than had been anticipated. At any rate the treatise 
on truth and error enjoyed some success. In spite of the indig- 
nation it had first aroused in him, Galawdewos studied it with 
great interest and showed it to his family. He even had a quar- 
rel with his own Abuna, it appears, for forbidding him to 
study the pamphlet. The Emperor was obviously a man of 
independent views and not to be coerced by anyone. 

Father Gongalo also tried his dialectics on the Abyssinian 
monks, not wholly without fruit. On one occasion when, 
backed by the Scriptures, he had been demolishing all mono- 
physite definition of the Trinity and pulverizing minor errors, 
one of his listeners at least was quite impressed. "He came 
and whispered in my ear, so that the other monks who were 
idiots should not hear him, saying that I spoke the truth, and 
he w r ould keep it in his heart." 

Except for such slender encouragement, Gongalo Rod- 
rigues had not a favourable report to give to his superiors at 
Goa upon the Abyssinian attitude towards religious truth. 
Trester John is such a heretic," he said, "that he considers 
we are so, and that they are good Christians." 

The Viceroy and Council decided that the Patriarch him- 
self ought not to go until the Emperor was in a more receptive 
frame of mind. His understudy in the mission, the newly con- 
secrated Bishop of Hierapolis, would first try his hand, and 
when the ground had been prepared the Patriarch could 
follow. 

The Bishop's name was Dom Andr de Oviedo. He was a 
Castilian by birth, tall, thin, learned, saintly, and ascetic. He 
was the first of Ignatius Loyola's Company to wear a mitre, 
which dignity the Pope had specially bestowed on him in 
order to add lustre to the Abyssinian mission. 

174 



The Bishop Ta^es a Hand 

Dom Andre left India in 1557, with two fathers and three 
brothers of the Company. They reached Debaroa on March 25 
and were received with open arms by the survivors of Dom 
Cristovao da Gama's army. With the exception of Miguel de 
Castanhoso and one or two others, none of these men had 
been able to get away. Far from sending a ship to fetch them, 
as Castanhoso states that they requested, the King had or- 
dered them to remain in the land of Prester John. They seem 
to have accepted their exile with resignation, and with true 
Portuguese adaptability they made the best of it. The Em- 
peror helped to reconcile them to their lot, for Galawdewos 
was by nature both generous and grateful. He gave them the 
best of everything he had, and those who turned out to greet 
the Bishop on his arrival were a splendid sight. They quite 
outshone the Abyssinians, says the chronicler, by the diversity 
and richness of their dress, while the retinue of servants, 
horses, mules, and tents that followed them made them ap- 
pear as the lords of the land. 

One, Joao Gongalves^ brought his wife, a high-born Abys- 
sinian lady, to introduce to the Bishop. She rode upon a hand- 
some mule all draped with brocade trappings. She was ele- 
fantly dressed in a rich tunic over a black velvet robe. She 
ad silk Turkish trousers drooping to her feet, adorned by 
golden buttons; massive gold bracelets hung upon her arms, 
and on her head was a tall velvet hat. Her husband was also 
bedecked in costly clothes, though his slashed cap with golden 
points is described as old-fashioned. 

Beside this ornamental couple rode another Portuguese 
whose following of thirty lackeys afl were armed with swords, 
lances, and guns. More and more resplendent figures joined 
the party, all eager to present their wives and exhibit their 
children. And the Bishop "praised God to see the Portuguese 
thus married, rich, and happy in this land, all full of zeal to 
receive and to serve their prelate," 

Dom Andre de Oviedo and his five priestly companions 
wsre entertained by one after another. They were taken to the 

175 



The Land of Prester John 

beautiful quintas and pleasances owned by the Portuguese 
and "banqueted splendidly" in every one. 

Amid all this feasting and rejoicing the fathers found much 
work to do. There were innumerable confessions to be heard, 
some of them years in arrears like Pero da Covilham, these 
exiles seem to have been shy of unbosoming themselves to 
Abyssinian priests and we gather that there were also a 
number of unsanctified unions to bless. The Jesuit fathers 
married and confirmed, confessed, and administered the sac- 
raments with unfailing delight. They found this part of their 
mission wholly satisfactory. 

The Emperor proved a harder case, though he received the 
Bishop "with humanity and love" and made him sit down by 
his side on a leather cushion upon a rich carpet. Galawdewos 
was reclining on a couch, dressed in a tunic over a Moorish 
shirt, and long trousers of Persian cotton. He was "a broad 
black man, with large eyes and an imposing presence." They 
found him *noble and discreet and friendly to the Portu- 
guese," but the Bishop's eloquence might as well have been 
expended on a rock. Not that the Emperor did not listen to 
Dom Andre's words. On the contrary. Galawdewos, like his 
father, Lebna Dengel, had a passion for theology and could 
have argued with the Bishop all day long. They got down to 
it almost at once, closeted alone together. What passed be- 
tween them is not known, but the Bishop emerged visibly 
upset. That man,** said he in agitated tones to his colleagues, 
"is a great heretic!** 

Galawdewos had, no doubt, enjoyed a most interesting 
talk, the first of many discussions, oral and in writing. The 
Emperor and the Bishop argued sometimes with heat 
each (?me they met, and bombarded each other with the 
theological treatises that either composed. The Bishop's hair 
was made to stand on end by the heresies which the Emperor 
coolly enunciated in defence of circumcision, the observance 
of the Jewish Sabbath, and similar abominations. Such prac- 

176 



The Bishop Ta\s a Hand 

tices, the Bishop told the Emperor roundly, would certainly 
take him to he 



Although Galawdewos appears to have found pleasure in 
shocking the Bishop, he is to be commended for his patience 
none the less. It cannot be agreeable for a monarch to be 
told before his court that he is heading for eternal flames. Nor 
can it be less trying to have a foreign priest upbraiding him 
"in public and in private" on the error of his ways. When, be- 
yond all this, we read that the Bishop tried to'persuade the 
Portuguese that it was wrong to serve so obstinate a heretic, 
we are moved to admiration of the Emperor s restraint. "He 
was always very courteous to the Bishop," writes the Superior 
of the mission,' Father Manuel Fernandes, in his report to 
headquarters at home, "and treated him in such a manner 
that, while he lived, no one ventured to show him disrespect, 
and he provided for us very liberally, for he was by nature 
generous and open-handed, especially towards those con- 
nected with the King of Portugal to whom he realized that 
he owed much ... he was so friendly to the Bishop that in 
spite of all his pertinacity we always hoped that some good 
might result/* 

All the same, there seem to have been one or two occasions 
when this friendly intercourse came near to breaking down. 
A couple of monks from a monastery, won over by the Bishop's 
eloquence, announced their intention to embrace Catholi- 
cism "and save their souls.* 7 The abbot demanded their return, 
and persuaded the Emperor to intervene. The Bishop, as 
might have been expected, refused to hand over his converts, 
and Galawdewos lost his temper* "No?" said he, pacing the 
floor in agitation, and turning, made as if he would attack the 
Bishop, Dom Andr6 expected to be killed. He threw off his 
cloak, and waited upon his knees for the blow. The Emperor 
gazed at him and clapped his hands together with exaspera- 
tion. But Galawdewos had a saving sense of humour. 

**You think that you will die a martyr at my hands?* said 
. 177 



The Land of Prester John 

he. **I will not give you that glory! Go, and take your monks. 
Give them eggs on Friday, and' you can be Bishop of two 
monks," Then turning to the Portuguese who were present: 
*You see/' said he, "the man that my brother the King of 
Portugal has sent me! Had he no Portuguese available?" 

Castilian though he was, Dom Andre had been sent by the 
King of Portugal, and so continued to enjoy the Imperial pro- 
tection. It seems, moreover, that in spite of all their differences 
Galawdewos esteemed the genuine goodness of the man. But 
the Emperor feared that his successor might not be so tol- 
erant or so bound by gratitude. "Poor Bishop!" he remarked 
when marching to repulse a Moslem raid. "If I die, what will 
become of him?" 

The Emperor did die, as it happened, fighting like a hero 
after his army had fled, and nearly all the Portuguese who 
went with him were cut down at his side. The Moslem chief- 
tain Nur ibn Mudi Ali Guazil sacked the Emperor's camp, took 
prisoners, and slew and then departed. In this manner Grany 
was avenged by Galawdewos's death a judgment on the 
Emperor, the Jesuits said, for refusing to embrace the Catholic 
faith! Adamas, his brother and successor, on the other hand, 
viewed Galawdewos's end as a divine chastisement for suffer- 
ing the Church of Rome to flourish in Ethiopia. 

Adamas was a violent man who looked askance on foreign- 
ers and newfangled ideas. The Portuguese soon found that 
they had fallen from their high estate of trusted allies and 
honored guests to that of alien undesirables. Even their chil- 
dren, Ethiopian by birth, were viewed with disfavour as being 
Catholics. The charge of heresy is one that may easily be flung 
back at the accuser's face, and the dart shot by Europe into 
Abyssinia recoiled upon the Europeans settled there. The Em- 
peror issued a decree forbidding Abyssinian wives of Portu- 
guese from following the religion of their husbands, and he 
confiscated right and left the lands that his brother had be- 
stowed upon Dom Crist6vao s s companions. As for the Jesuits, 
he announced his intention of burning them all alive, and he 

178 



The Bishop TaJ(cs a Hand 

imprisoned the Bishop. He told Dom Andre that he would 
cut off his head unless he left off preaching. The Bishop re- 
plied that if he had many heads and were to lose them all he 
still would preach the holy faith as long as he had breath. The 
enraged Emperor seized the Bishop and would have killed 
him there with his own hands if the Queen had not restrained 
her angry husband. Dom Andre de Oviedo was banished into 
the wilderness with one companion. 

It might have fared worse with the foreigners if Adamas 
had not soon alienated his own subjects. It seems that he was 
something of a tryant, and before his reign was two years old, 
the nobles rose in rebellion, headed by the Bahr Xagach, and 
crowned Adamas's young nephew Tascaro. The Emperor de- 
feated the rebels in one battle, took his nephew prisoner, and 
subsequently hurled him down a precipice. The Bahr Nagach, 
however, found another princeling to crown and made alli- 
ance with the Turks. 

Such a dangerous situation appears to have cured the Em- 
peror's xenophobia. He felt obliged to make friends with the 
Portuguese, for they were the best fighters in the land. As the 
Ethiopian chronicle describes them: They were valorous 
and constant men, athirst for battle like the wolf, and hungry 
for combat like the lion." We do not know how many of Doin 
Crist6vao*s army still survived after twenty years, but of these 
at least thirty, including their captain, Caspar de Sousa^ had 
gone over to the Bahr Nagach. The majority refrained, how- 
ever; on principle they disapproved of subjects taking arms 
against their lawful sovereign. Insubordination to captains or 
governors was comprehensible, not to say inevitable, at times. 
A subject might defy a subject if he chose. But to rebel against 
one's king was the act of a traitor. Most of the Portuguese, 
therefore, condemned the Bahr Nagach and looked askance 
on their compatriots who were supporting him. 

About this time we find them all at court again, and seem- 
ingly in favour. The Bishop and his fellow missionaries were 
also there, though not apparently enjoying similar esteem. 

179 



The Land of Prester John 

They were "very afflicted and oppressed," writes Padre Man- 
uel Fernandes. If, however, as Diogo do Couto says, they were 
intriguing with the Emperor's enemies, we can hardly blame 
Adamas for viewing them with coldness and suspicion. 

It w r as the foreigners who kept up the Emperor's drooping 
spirits. Adamas was a superstitious man. He had been con- 
sulting auguries and oracles and found them all unf favourable, 
and hence was sunk in gloom. He could not fight, he told the 
Portuguese to their disgust 

They chose a strange method to excite his martial ardour. 
One evening after supper seven of them seized their swords 
and shields and loaded guns and proceeded to the royal tent, 
beating a drum and shaking tambourines. As they drew near, 
they all began to dance, singing at the top of their voices: 

'Viva o Rei de Preste Joao 
Que para of Turcos I um lector 

(Long live the King Prester John 
Who is a lion against the Turks!) 

The din that they made was tremendous. The Emperor, the 
Queen, and her ladies turned out with thirty torches to see 
what was the matter, and stood there watching while the 
Portuguese cut capers. When the dance was over, the dancers 
all fired off their guns, shouting to the Emperor to raise his 
tents and march against the Turks. Declaring their willing. 
ness to die for him, they drew their swords and began to fence 
with great agility. The Queen and her ladies were delighted. 
Tltese are angels and not men!* they said ecstatically. The 
noisy serenade roused the whole camp. AH the other Por- 
tuguese, waving their swords, rushed up to join the fun, and 
the Emperor, infected by the warlike fuiy, expressed his 
readiness to do or die. 

In the dispassionate light of day his pessimism revived. He 
felt quite certain that he would come to grief, and he told the 

180 



The Bishop Takes a Hand 

Portuguese that he was sorry for them. "With you/* he de- 
clared sentimentally, "I am lice a hen that gathers her chick- 
ens under her wings at the appearance of the hawk," and "I 
am your only friend," he added, forgetting that he had not 
always qualified for such a title. 

The Emperor Adamas met his rebel subjects and their 
Turkish allies on April 20, 1562. The Portuguese on either side 
avoided one another and went for the Abyssinians or the 
Turks. All might have been well with Adamas if his Ethiopians 
had not been incurably gun-shy. When they heard the Turk- 
ish cannon roar, they all turned tail and fled, and Adamas was 
killed. The Emperor's camp was sacked and the Jesuits were 
taken prisoner, but delivered by the Portuguese who had been 
fighting in the rebels* ranks. 

There is no clear record of the subsequent history of Dom 
Crist6vao*s old companions, nor of the part they took in the 
wars of the next reign. The Jesuits are better documented, and 
we know that they made their headquarters at Fremona, near 
the modern Adowa. 

They were not persecuted by the new Emperor -- merely 
ignored. Malac Segued, we are told, regarded them as holy 
men although doctrinally unsound. Adamas's son did not 
share the family passion for religious controversy, and the 
Jesuits were never given a chance of expounding their views 
to him. He left them to do what they liked at Fremona. 

It was a hand-to-mouth existence that they led. Deprived 
of the Imperial patronage, and cut off from the outer world, 
there was no one to provide them with the necessaries of life. 
The Bishop lived in a straw native hut His food was black 
and sour bread, linseed and cabbages which vegetables, 
says the shocked chronicler, he had to cultivate himself "with 
his pontifical hands." He was so short of everything that when 
he wished to write a letter he had to tear out the blank leaves 
of his breviary, and after those were gooe to cut the margins 
of its pages. 

Dom Andr6 de Oviedo was a saintly sotd. He endured all 

181 



The Land of Prcster John 

this miser}- with cheerful resignation, and whenever he had 
anything to give away he promptly parted with it. He visited 
the sick throughout the neighbourhood, acting as both doc- 
tor and nurse, regardless whether the invalid were "freeman 
or slave, Catholic or heretic." 

The Christian virtues that the Bishop displayed had more 
effect on those around him than all his former polemics and 
learned treatises. Many Abyssinians, it appears, turned Cath- 
olic out of pure admiration for the man. Such a holy life, they 
reasoned, could not be founded on erroneous doctrine. Thus 
the Bishop had the joy of making some converts at last. 

In this manner Dom Andr de Oviedo lived, happy in spite 
of poverty and persecution, until, struck down by fever in 
1557, he still more gladly died. 

The whole reign of Adamas and that of his son, Malac 
Segued, is a blood-stained record of revolution and civil war. 
To the devastation of internal struggles was added that of 
Turkish raids. This realm," the Bishop wrote in 1567, "will 
never know peace and order until the coming of the Portu- 
guese." He hoped to see five or six hundred Portuguese sol- 
diers from India sent to clear up the Abyssinian mess. With 
their arrival **all Ethiopia would be converted," he declared, 
in the sure conviction of his generation that forcible conver- 
sions were better than none. 

In India, however, not very much was known of what was 
going on in Abyssinia, for news filtered through rarely and 
by devious ways. In 1557 the Turks had captured Massawa 
and every other port that gave the mountain empire access to 
the sea. It was long since the Portuguese had sailed in force 
beyond Bab-el-Mandeb, for the great days in the East were 
almost over and the power of Portugal had begun to decline. 
Persistently for more than half a century her finest manhood 
had been shipped in annual batches to die overseas, and the 
inevitable exhaustion was already manifest. There still were 
twenty years to go before the final tragedy, but absorbed be- 
tween what has been called "the slaughterhouse of Asia" on 

182 



The Bishop TaJ(es a Hand 

the one side, and the limitless Brazilian forests on the other, 
the nation s lifeblood was ebbing away. 

Meanwhile the Portuguese in India and in Abyssinia at- 
tempted to communicate, mostly without success. At Goa 
the Jesuit Patriarch was waiting still, desperate at being un- 
able to reach his post and wondering what had happened to 
the Bishop. He begged the viceroy to give him a ship and 
land him anywhere upon the Red Sea beach he was quite 
willing to risk whatever followed. But the Viceroy refused. 
Dom Joao Nunes Barreto, he said, was too high a dignitary 
to expose to such danger. Brother Fulgencio Freire. an old 
soldier and a less important person, might try his luck and 
carry letters to the Bishop, as well as other useful things. 

Brother Fulgencio Freire embarked, but neither reached 
Abyssinia nor returned to India. The ship on which he sailed 
came up against the Turks. The captain might have avoided 
battle, but would not. With fifteen men he chose to take on 
fifty, and so the ship was lost. Brother Fulgencio was carried 
off to Cairo by the Turks. The Viceroy refused to send another 
ship that way, and the Patriarch died of despair in 1562. 

From the other side attempts \vere also made to break the 
iron ring. Father Andre Gualdames, escorted by a Portu- 
guese named Marco Fernandes, tried to pass the Turkish lines 
and sailed for India in disguise. 

They got as far as Massawa, and there they were betrayed. 
The Turks drew out their scimitars and hewed them into slices. 



183 





What Travellers to 
Abyssinia Might Expect 




An Armenian walking through the streets of Diu attracted 
the attention of the schoolboys of that town. Armenians 
dressed not very differently from Moslems in those parts, and 
the urchins did not know one from the other- "Mohammed!" 
they all howled at the stranger passing by, for young Diu was 
fanatically Christian as became the grandsons of Moslems. 

The Armenian took no notice but went on his way. When 
he entered the fort, however, the sentinel beside the gate did 
not behave more decently than the schoolboys. "Ah, Moor!" 
he cried, drawing his sword. "How dare you come into a Chris- 
tian fort?" A comrade pointed out that it was an Armenian 
not a Moor, and so the man was suffered to proceed. Anybody 
who had cared to dog his steps might have seen him joined at 
some time by an older man who was dressed in the same fash- 
ion, and whoever listened to their conversation would have 
heard the two Armenians talking Spanish. The pair were, in 
fact, the Castilian Father Pero Paes and his Catalan colleague 
Father Antonio de Monserrate, both Jesuit priests who had 
left their headquarters at Goa on February 3, 1588, and were 
hoping to reach Abyssinia with the help of the Lord. 

The travelling joys to which they might look forward had 
already been experienced by the Fathers Andre Gualdames 
and Fulge&cio Freire. Facilities had not increased since the 

184 



What Travellers Might Expect 

Turks had cut up Father Andr at Massawa; on the contrary, 
only profoundest secrecy and deep disguise could get a trav- 
eller past the danger zone. Yet when the Provincial at Goa 
received orders to send more Jesuits to Abyssinia, we are told 
that all the fathers were anxious to go. 

The Provincial made careful selection among the men of 
various nationality at his command. He picked out Father 
Antonio de Monserrate, a veteran missionary' from the court 
of the Great Mogul, and Pero Paes, a young man fresh from 
his studies and newly arrived in India. Father Antonio, though 
richly experienced, w r as rather old to send on such a journey, 
but the choice of Pero Paes could not have been improved 
upon. He had all the earnestness of his compatriot Dom Andre 
de Oviedo, tempered by infinitely more tact. Pero Paes was, 
moreover, cheerful, intelligent, adaptable, resourceful, quick 
at languages, and what today would be called "a good mixer/' 
for he was able to get on well with all sorts and conditions 
of men. 

The adventurous pair disguised themselves and sailed for 
Diu to study there the problem of how to cross the Moslem 
lands. A real Armenian from Aleppo offered his assistance in 
the matter. He said that they could travel with him to his 
country via Basra, and he would put them on the way to 
Cairo. At Cairo they were sure to meet some caravan bound 
for Ethiopia which they might join. 

A very complicated route! commented Belchior Calaga, 
captain of Muscat, where the ship bearing the Jesuits and 
their Armenian friend put in for water. Instead of trailing up 
the Persian Gulf and right across the desert, why not take 
ship direct to Zeila or some port of the Red Sea? An Arab pilot 
who was a good friend of his and often sailed that way might 
easily be persuaded to take the priests as passengers. 

It did appear a simpler plan. The, companions left tibeir Ar- 
menian to continue his journey without them and waited 
until the Arab was ready to sail Thus it came about that the 
end of December 1588 saw the two missionaries, with a young 

185 



The Land of Prcster John 

Syrian interpreter, on board a little ship that vainly tried to 
fight its way up the Arabian coast against a strong head wind. 

The weather grew worse as they went along; to make prog- 
ress in such a storm was quite impossible, but neither could 
they put back to Muscat. There was nothing but to run for 
the nearest land. 

Detached fragments of the desert cast into the sea, the 
Kuria Muria Islands raise their forsaken rocks off the Arabian 
coast. TTiese isolated dots upon the map, known to history 
only in records of shipwreck, had for inhabitants the poorest 
fishermen, who lived in seaweed-covered huts and fed on 
sun-dried fish, uncooked for want of fuel. Their boats, it 
seems, were better than their houses, and the Arab pilot man- 
aged to hire one in which he hoped to sail as far as Zeila, for 
the ship in which he had left Muscat was no longer seaworthy. 
A week was spent at Kuria Muria, equipping the new vessel 
for the voyage, which delay was long enough to seal the 
Jesuits' fate. 

Belchior Calaga's friend the pilot was no doubt a worthy 
man. The only trouble was that he, too, had a friend to whom 
he could not refrain telling important bits of news. That two 
Franks w r ere travelling to Zeila on his ship was sufficiently 
novel to be worth talking about, and so he passed it on. The 
friend listened to the secret with interest, and immediately 
wrote to inform a friend of his, living at Dofar beyond the 
Kuria Muria Islands: a ship carrying two Portuguese (all 
Europeans were Portuguese to Orientals of that time) was 
sailing up the coast. If a sharp look-out were kept, some use- 
ful prisoners might be caught for ransom! 

The men of Dofar took the hint, and the delay at Kuria 
Muria played the game into their hands. A flotilla patrolled 
the coast until the travellers had set sail once more, when the 
ship was waylayed and the two Jesuits with their interpreter 
were carried off. 

The captain of Dofar eyed the foreigners suspiciously. 
What were they doing on that ship? he wished to know. They 

186 



What Travellers Might Expect 

told the truth, that they were Christian priests bound for 
Ethiopia to join the Portuguese already living there, but the 
captain thought it was not a convincing story. The prisoners 
were divested of most of their clothes and consigned to a 
dilapidated building which Dofar ambitiously referred to as 
the fort. Antonio de Monserrate and Pero Paes spent a few 
days within its ramshackle walls, half-starved and eaten up by 
fleas "and similar nocturnal guests a common produce of 
those countries," the chronicler says tersely. 

The captain later sent for them again. The question of their 
belongings troubled him. Little had been found beyond the 
clothes they wore, and as he had to dispatch the prisoners 
to his King, he feared that he would be suspected of holding 
something back. He therefore had them questioned before 
witnesses, and after thus establishing his innocence he shipped 
the three captives on a coasting dhow. Five days later they 
were landed on an arid shore and, turning their backs upon 
the sea whence lay a Christian captive's only hope of rescue, 
their jailers led them off into the desert land. 

It w r as a long and weary journey into the unknown. Day 
after day the camels padded their way across the sand through 
the great emptiness, their drivers guiding themselves by the 
sun and stars as men do in mid-ocean. At first the prisoners 
were expected to run barefoot beside the camels, but finding 
that the unfortunate wretches could not keep pace, they were 
allowed to ride among the baggage. 

No food was offered them but roasted locusts. Antonio de 
Monserrate and Pero Paes were both ascetic men, but they 
did not succeed in emulating John the Baptist. They found 
it quite impossible to swallow the insects, so their captors 
made them some very little loaves out of the flour that had 
been confiscated from the prisoners* own stores. 

After ten blazing days they reached Tarim, in the heart of 
Hadhramaut The dwellers in those lost towns of the desert 
had not often the chance to see a foreisjn face; the whole of 
Tarim therefore turned out to gape at the strange sight. Were 

187 



The Land of Prester John 

these men followers of the Prophet? was the first question 
asked. On hearing that they were not, all Tarim scowled and 
burst into a torrent of abuse. When words failed to express 
their pious rage, they spat in the prisoners' faces. By degrees 
the faithful worked themselves up into such a frenzy that the 
Christians would have been torn to pieces if their custodians 
had not hurried them into a house. Pero Paes and Antonio de 
Monserrate were smuggled out of the town at early dawn 
before the fierce fanatics were abroad. 

The next village w r as better. A brother of the King received 
the captives pleasantly. He plied them with refreshing drinks 
and asked them many questions. He also sounded their re- 
ligious views, but "These men never will turn Moslem** was 
the conclusion which he reached as a result, and he sent them 
on to his brother, King Omar, at Henan. 

The inhabitants of Henan were less fanatical than the men 
of Tarim. They made no attempt to stone the prisoners, but 
they spent a happy two days staring at them in die turret 
where they were confined. Never in their lives had Pero Paes 
and Antonio de Monserrate been the objects of such em- 
barrassing publicity. The people came in relays and they came 
in batches. Each time one man had gazed his fill, his place 
was taken by another. All through the stifling day the for- 
eigners were surrounded by groups of swarthy Arabs whose 
carefully curled locks were caked with dust and soaked in 
rancid butter. 

The townsmen had not ceased to feast their eyes upon the 
strangers when King Omar desired his turn and sent for them. 
Hie scanty clothes that had been left the captives at Dof ar 
were much the worse for desert travel and not considered 
seemly to appear at court. The confiscated garments were 
therefore restored before the two priests entered the royal 
presence. 

King Omar, a personable man aged about forty, was seated 
on a dais spread with brocade. He was festively attired in 
very fine green cloth and wore a gold-embroidered turban. 

188 



What Travellers Might Expect 

He greeted the prisoners graciously and told them to sit down. 
Waving aside the Syrian interpreter, he summoned an old 
Peguan woman out of the harem. The King addressed her in 
Arabic, which she translated into reasonably good Portu- 
guese: "The King tells you not to be distressed, for God has 
led you here but," she added in an aside, "I say that for your 
sins you have been brought among such evil men/* 

The afternoon was spent in question and in answer, for 
King Omar was curious and had many things to ask. In the 
end the priests begged that they might have their breviaries 
returned to them, to which the King agreed. He sent the books 
back the next day, "which was no small consolation." 

There was not much else to console the prisoners during 
the long empty days they passed in that forsaken town, won- 
dering what their fate \vould be. 

The Peguan woman came to visit them at last and explained 
the position. King Omar, it appears, would have liked to keep 
the prisoners until they were ransomed, but dared not for 
fear of his overlords, the Turkish conquerors of Yemen. The 
Pasha had decreed that Portuguese prisoners were his by 
right, and no doubt would demand them. 

The Jesuits asked the woman to tell them her story and 
how she came to be in this Arab town. She told them that she 
used to be a Christian and embarked many years ago upon a 
ship sailing from Chaul to Ormuz. A tempest threw them onto 
the Arabian coast, where the eight Portuguese with whom 
she was had been enticed ashore and captured. She and they 
were taken to Omar's father, then the reigning King. The 
woman, no doubt young and attractive at the time, was sent 
to the harem, but the men endured a cruel captivity. The 
King tried to persecute them into turning Moslem, which all 
eight steadily refused to do. 

One of them, whose name was Preto, said the woman, 
thought that he had made a friend. This Arab, who sailed to 
Melindi every year, agreed to carry a letter to the Portuguese 
stationed there. Preto therefore wrote to his compatriots, im- 

189 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

ploring them to send a ship to the Arabian coast and capture 
a few natives there in order to exchange them for the prison- 
ers in Hadhramaut. 

Somebody in Henan must have been able to read Portu- 
guese, for the gist of the letter was repeated to the King. He 
sent for Preto in a fury. "Is this your letter?" he demanded, 
and the prisoner said it was. "Then," cried the King with rising 
anger, "you shall turn Moslem here and now, or else die at 
my hands! 

"I am not a man to turn Moslem," said Preto sturdily, where- 
upon the King had his head smitten off and his body flung 
out of the window. His seven companions, though they stuck 
to their faith, did not meet with such a violent end. Worn out 
by hard treatment and illness, one by one they died, and so 
the woman alone remained. 

And would she not return to the Christian fold? pleaded 
the captive priests, but, weeping, she refused. She had not 
the courage, she sobbed, to confess Christ before Moslems, 
and their preaching drew from her nothing but tears, 

Antonio de Monserrate had spent four months in Henan 
before the Pasha of Yemen heard about their existence. He 
sent word to Omar that these prisoners were his and he must 
have them. 

The Arab kinglet hastened to obey. The captives were dis- 
patched at once, together \pith a present of four horses not 
a love gift, but an offering prompted by fear in order to placate 
the Turkish tyrant. 

On June 27 the last fortress of Omar's kingdom was left 
behind, and the pathless desert engulfed the caravan. Four 
days and nights the camels ploughed the wastes before they 
reached and rested by an oasis. The next day they passed 
through Melfcis, a town left in the desert long ago, for cen- 
turies abandoned to the sun and sand. Here ruins of great 
buildings raised by a forgotten race bore inscriptions that no 
Arab could decipher. The Queen of Sheba, so the local legend 
ran, had ruled over this city in her time. This appeared to the 

190 



What Travellers Might Expect 

Jesuits to be likely enough, and they gazed upon the ancient 
stones with keen interest. 

The capital of Yemen, on the Arabian plateau, concealed 
its fruitful orchards and its palmy gardens behind a powerful 
encircling wall. Here was the Pasha s residence, and his Gov- 
ernor rode out of the city gates to meet the prisoners with 
trumpets sounding. He made a spectacular return into the 
town with the captives walking before his horse as in a Roman 
triumph. Having undergone "the customary cross-question- 
ing at the Pasha s palace, the two Jesuits were led away to an 
evil-smelling dungeon in every way as bad, the chronicler 
affirms, as the prisons of Tetuan. 

Father Antonio de Monserrate struck his failers as being 
too old and weak to put in irons, but Pero Paes was young 
and able-bodied; heavy chains were therefore clamped on 
his ankles, and in these fetters he was daily led out to work. 

The two Jesuits were not alone in their foul prison. They 
found twenty-six Portuguese and five Indian Christians there, 
who had been captured off the Malindi coast It would be 
edifying to be able to say that these companions in misfor- 
tune were like one big family, but the melancholy truth is that 
they were at daggers drawn, and on the point of murdering 
one another. Close confinement makes men sick of their com- 
rades* faces especially men whose tempers are short. The 
two priests found good work cut out for themselves. 

Their mission was successful. Such was the effect of precept 
and example that before long even the Turks could hardly 
recognize their fiery prisoners. And it seems that virtue 
brought its own reward, for soon after the captives* reforma- 
tion they found their lot greatly improved. 

It happened that the Pasha was a keen horticulturist. He 
had begun life in a humble way as gardener to the Grand 
Turk. Thoueh he had risen to greatness, he did not blush to 
own his lowly origin. On the contrary, he gloried in it. The 
hoe with which he once had tilled the Sultan's garden at Con- 
stantinople hung like a trophy in the palace hall. His own 

191 



The Land of Prcster John 

gardens were the finest in Yemen, and now the idea occurred 
to him to employ his Christian captives in cultivating them. 

The Portuguese seem to have been delighted, for the love 
of gardening is deeply rooted in that flower-loving race. 
They applied themselves to their new work with enthusiasm 
and,' we may gather, with considerable success. At Easter 
time the chapel which the Jesuits had improvised in their 
prison was transformed by the gardeners into one bright mass 
of flowers. 

The prisoners* quarters were no longer in the dismal cellar 
where they were first confined. In this respect also conditions 
had improved. The Christians had been allowed to move up 
to the airy and spacious first floor of the building, where they 
seem to have had the whole place to themselves and divided 
up the accommodation as they chose. The priests were al- 
lotted two large apartments, in one of which they fitted up 
their little chapel, "very well arranged,'* we are informed. Not 
only was it beautified at Easter time, but at Christmas it was 
bright with many candles made with wax which the gardeners 
obtained from the Turks in exchange for fruit and flowers. 
The fathers also managed to make and put together one of 
those presepios (Christmas cribs) which are still popular in 
Portugal today. The Turks were fascinated by this one and 
flocked to gaze upon it. They must have been far less fanati- 
cal than the Arabs of Hadhramaut. Christians would never 
have been allowed such latitude at Tarim or Henan. 

IB this manner two years went by, not without consolations. 
From time to time money arrived from Christian centres ( the 
ransom of captives was a favourite charity in that age, and 
the object of pious legacies ), and one prisoner or another ob- 
tained his liberty. But the Pasha expected a higher sum to be 
paid for the two priests. 

j <& J XT ^^ ji VfV/ii* 

panion had been more fortunate than they. The Governor of 
the town took a fancy to this lad and made him his house 
slave. Like Joseph, the young man won favour by his excellent 

192 



What Travellers Might Expect 

conduct, and his master made him caterer for the household. 
The youth handled money so faithfully and was so exact in 
returning the change that his lord was often moved to give 
him handsome tips, which he always handed over to the two 
priests, who often lacked the necessaries of life. This little 
help was soon cut off, however, for the Syrian had a further 
stroke of luck. He met a Turk hailing from his own country. 
This man had influence with the Pasha and obtained the boy's 
freedom from him. The Syrian set off joyfully for his native 
land, but promised the Jesuits not to stay there long. He would 
return to India overland via Ormuz and report to headquar- 
ters about the missionaries' captivity and have them ran- 
somed. 

One day it seemed that they might not have to wait till then, 
for they, too, were in luck. The Pasha had a wife of Christian 
origin, who greatly wished to see the two Jesuits. Her curi- 
osity went no further than this she knew that she could not 
speak to a man. A pretext was found in the person of her small 
son, aged seven. The lady sent word that she would like to 
show this prodigy to the stranger priests. A time and place 
accordingly were fixed. The gardeners gave the Jesuits a jar 
of their rose water to present to the child. Thus they visited 
the Pasha's son, while the Pasha's wife, hidden behind a shut- 
tered window, feasted her eyes upon the foreigners unseen 
by them. 

Antonio de Monserrate and Pero Paes must have adopted 
the right manner towards the little boy, for they clearly made 
the conquest of his mother. She told her son to beg his father 
for their freedom and to send them to Jerusalem. The Pasha 
was a fond father and listened to his child. He promised to 
give the priests their liberty and would actually have done so, 
but his treasurer protested. It was madness, this Turk de- 
clared, to let the Jesuits go. Did the Pasha not understand that 
5,000 cruzados could be extorted for their ransom? Did he 
feel like sacrificing such a sum? 

That certainly would be a pity, the Pasha concluded on 

193 



The Land of Prester John 

second thoughts. He had given his word, but what of that? 
Sentiment ought not to weigh when 5,000 cruzados were at 
stake. 

He appears to have awakened to new interest in the two 
Jesuits' ransom. Since they were worth so much money, he 
told the treasurer, better take steps to squeeze it out. The 
treasurer hastened to put on the screw, and life became very 
grim for Pero Paes and Antonio de Monserrate. The Turk, 
hoping that starvation would have the desired result, reduced 
their ration to one loaf a day, of husks rather than flour. The 
reason for this rigour was duly explained, but, in accordance 
with the rules of sound'bargaining as recognized throughout 
the East, since 5,000 cruzados were the price that had been 
fixed, the Turks demanded 20,000. 

During a wretched eighteen months the only consolation 
in the captives* life was Mullah Ali. This rather intriguing per- 
sonage was a Turk from Argel, son of a Christian slave. He 
was deeply learned in all the holy books of Islam, and his fre- 
quent pilgrimages to Mecca had invested him with an aura of 
sanctity. Devout Moslem though Mullah Ali was, he does not 
appear to have been bigoted. He remembered that his mother 
had been a Christian woman, and he could meet Franks with- 
out prejudice. He moreover revelled in theological discus- 
sions, to which of course the Jesuits had been highly trained. 
Mullah Ali therefore enjoyed talking to Pero Paes and An- 
tonio de Monserrate, and, happily for them, he liked such 
conversation during meals. The starving prisoners were in- 
vited to "copious dinners," and while partaking of earthly re- 
freshment they discoursed with their host of heavenly things. 

At these banquets they were often joined by Ali Pasha, a 
native of Seville, who had been captured by the Turks when 
he was eight years old. He had been educated in the faith of 
Islam, and risen to high honour in their midst, but he never 
had borne arms against Christians, he told the priests. 

Hiese intellectual parties were only an interlude. Mullah 

184 



What Travellers Might Expect 

All and All Pasha both went away, and so, the chronicler says 
sadly, "that was the end of the good dinners/* 

A very savage Turk appeared upon the scene about this 
time. By way of speculation, he offered to buy the captive 
Jesuits from the Pasha of Yemen. They could not agree about 
the price, however. He would not offer above 3,000 cruzados, 
and the Pasha hoped to do better than that, so the deal was off. 
It was a lucky escape for Antonio de Monserrate and Pero 
Paes, for this Turk seems to have been a dangerous lunatic. 
The Pasha, for reasons of his own, seized some of his luggage 
and refused to restore it; whereupon we are told that this man, 
"full of an infernal impatience," slashed himself open in his 
rage and, pulling out his own entrails, proceeded to cut them 
into little bits until he died! When his son tried to stop him 
at this ghastly operation, the ruthless suicide turned the knife 
upon the young man and stabbed him to death. 

Meanwhile the Pasha's treasurer had informed the captives 
that 5,000 cruzados was the lowest sum that his master could 
think of accepting. The Jesuits replied that much as they de- 
sired their freedom, they could not promise what they did 
not possess, so they were once more cast into chains. This 
time they were relegated to a tiny dungeon where three people 
might just have squeezed, sitting with their heads touching 
the ceiling. They would have died there very soon, but not 
wishing to incur financial loss, their jailers took them out in 
time. They were dispatched to Mocha, by the shores of the 
Red Sea. It would be easier to negotiate their ransom from 
this port, where merchants* ships from India came and went 

Thus the priests were sent upon their third journey across 
Arabia. They travelled via Taiz to the coast, a very trying 
trek. Father Antonio de Monserrate was fast wearing out and 
did not feel safe perched on a camel. Having fallen off once, 
he begged to be allowed to ride a donkey, but as it happened, 
this made matters worse. A camel knocked the little donkey 
down with Father Antonio underneath. The poor old man 

195 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

was badly bruised and shaken and had to be supported for 
the rest of the way by Pero Paes and a kindly Brahman who 
followed the caravan. 

What about those 5,000 cruzados? was the remark with 
which they were greeted at Mocha by the Pasha's minion who 
took charge of the prisoners. They were incarcerated in a dark 
and stifling warehouse, filled with bales of pepper, cinnamon, 
and cloves, the scent of which, brought out by the terrific 
heat, came near to asphyxiating them. 

It was a scorching day, hot even for the southern shores of 
the Red Sea, and everyone was gasping. The Pasha's officer 
upstairs was having water sprinkled on him by his Abyssinian 
slave, who seems to have been a good-hearted lad. "Sir/* he 
exclaimed, "if even up here we are roasting in this fiery heat, 
what will happen to those wretches down below among the 
bales of spices? Let me go and fetch them out before they die/' 
His master consented the prisoners after all were worth 

monev and the boy rescued them just in time to save their 

i- 

lives. 

The Pasha's deputy later on sent for Pero Paes. 

"My master orders me," he said, "to chain you foot and 
neck, I shall put the collar on you, but not the fetters, for 
you will have to run before my horse, with my sword pricking 
from behind to goad you on.** 

"And you can loll us with it," answered Pero Paes serenely, 
"if those are your orders. There is nothing that would make 
us happier than to die for our holy faith." 

"Since you so ardently desire it," sneered the Turk, "you 
soon will meet with death when you are flayed alive." 

These, however, were only threats. So long as there was 
any hope of ransom, no attempt would be made on the prison- 
ers* lives. The Turk did not flay them alive, but sent them to 
thegalleys, 

Tae lot of galley-slaves was bad at best, and these two 
tasted it in its worst form. The master of their galley had him- 
self been a slave chained to the bench, and he took special joy 

196 



What Travellers Might Expect 

in avenging upon other wretches what he had once endured. 

One would have thought that in their captors* own interest 
the oarsmen should have been well fed, but they were starved. 
A very small ration of red millet was issued even* day, which 
chicken-feed they had to grind without a mill and which 
there was no wood to cook with. 

Pero Paes was resourceful. He managed to find two stones 
between which by superhuman efforts he could crush the 
corn. The broken fragments he put in a jar, and dropped 
sparks on them. The result was partly burnt and partly raw, 
but such as it was, they had to eat it or starve. 

If the days were bad, the nights were even worse. In the 
fiery heat of the Red Sea the cramped and filthy space below 
the galley deck was humming with mosquitoes and crawling 
with fleas. The prisoners could hardly snatch a wiiik of sleep, 
but spent the hours brushing away the myriad insects that 
settled on their faces, "some singing and others biting.** It is 
a marvel that these men did not go mad. 

Antonio de Monserrate was an old man and at the end of 
his tether. His son fell very ill. Even so the Turks would have 
kept him chained to his bench if his companion had not re- 
monstrated with the captain. The Pasha would doubtless hold 
him responsible, said Pero Paes, if that captive were to die. 
This made their tormentor thoughtful. After all, the Pasha 
would not like to lose his money. Antonio de Monserrate was 
given leave to go ashore, with Pero Paes in charge of him, but 
from the moment that they left the galley, their meagre ration 
was cut off. 

A kindly merchant took pity on them in these straits. He 
gave them rice and butter of his own, and lent two eruzados 
fen: their maintenance until some help from India should 
arrive. 

With such resources Pero Paes nursed his invalid and fed 
him upon rice. The old man must have had a splendid consti- 
tution, for in spite of every disadvantage He recovered and re- 
sumed his seat upon the galley bench. 

197 



The Land of Prester John 

It was only for a short time. Their ransom really came at 
last thanks to the faithful Syrian. He had kept his promise 
and returned to India via the Persian Gulf and told the story 
of the priests' captivity. The Viceroy took immediate action 
and so one day a ship arrived at Mocha from Diu with joy- 
ful news. An Indian native had been sent with letters and 
the ransom! 

Negotiations were opened at once. The Viceroy's orders 
were to ransom the missionaries at any cost, but the pair saw 
to it that the demand was not excessive. An Oriental may be 
past master in the art of bargaining, but a southern European 
is not very far behind. Antonio de Monserrate and Pero Paes 
shrugged their shoulders and displayed such complete, such 
convincing indifference to their liberty that instead of the 
5,000 cruzados for which they had clamoured, the Turks were 
soon agreeing to accept 1,000! Even then the prisoners raised 
loud protests. What was the use, they asked the Viceroy's mes- 
senger, of wasting so much money? They were accustomed to 
their captivity keep the ransom for others! But the Indian 
was quite satisfied that he would not get better terms and 
counted out the sum. 

The two priests were just about to leave Mocha, free men 
at last Already the anchor was weighed, the sails unfurled, 
when the captain of the Turkish galley appeared on board, 
deeply aggrieved. Where did he come in? said he. He had re- 
ceived no compensation for the time he had permitted them 
to stay ashore. A hundred cruzados, he felt, would be neces- 
sary to meet the case, and if they did not propose to pay, he 
would drag them back to his galley forthwith. 

There was no time to appeal to the Pasha against this highly 
unjustified extortion, and the Turk if he chose had power to 
carry out his threat. The ruffian was given his hundred cru- 
zados, and the captives really got away. 

After seven years* captivity in the Arabian desert Antonio 
de Monserrate and Pero Paes reached India once again. After 
the dungeons of Yemen, and benches of the Red Sea galleys, 

198 



What Travellers Might Expect 

the austere monastic life of their brethren at Goa seemed 
luxury and rest. Antonio de Monserrate did not live to enjoy 
it long. He died at Goa shortly after their return, as might 
have been expected. 
A few years later Pero Paes set out again for Abyssinia- 



199 




There came to our country a man from Jerusalem named Mo- 
allimPetros. . . . His beard was red as flames of fire ... he 
spoke Geez and knew all our books better than our own wise 
men. . . . 

This fiery-bearded stranger moving through Ethiopian 
legend has been identified with Father Pero Paes. He did 
reach Abyssinia in the end, and was followed there by two 
colleagues, Father Antonio Fernandes of Lisbon and the Nea- 
politan Father Francisco Antonio de Angelis. 

Pero Paes arrived in 1602, when for many years no white 
man had reached Abyssinia. The most recent attempt had 
been that of the Maronite Jesuit Father Abraham de Georgiis, 
who was beheaded by the Turks in 1595. In 1597 the last of 
the five priests who came with Dom Andre de Oviedo had 
died at Fremona, and the Catholics in Abyssinia felt them- 
selves very much cut off. 

These ^Portuguese," as the descendants of Dom Cristovao's 
army persisted in calling themselves, were no longer recog- 
nizable as such. The Jesuit chronicler Baltasar Teles tells us 
that a few of the original heroes survived, but they must have 
been over eigjhty years old Their sons and grandsons by Ethi- 
opian mothers could not claim to be white men any more. 
Yet; Ethiopian though they were in birth, custom, and colour, 

200 



Success 

their heart's loyalty was still for the far-off ancestral home. 
Their exiled fathers had taught them to feel in some measure 
like exiles themselves, and the little kingdom by the Western 
Ocean had been painted to them as a lost paradise. Thus these 
half-castes fostered their sentiment of nationality and clung 
to the religion of their fathers as part of the birthright that 
marked them for a race apart. The last Jesuit's death was like 
the severing of a link with a beloved past; the successive ar- 
rivals of Pero Paes and his companions were therefore greeted 
with joy. 

Pero Paes had forced the Turkish barrier thanks to a pious 
fraud by means of which, Baltasar Teles says, he had "de- 
ceived the Devil/* It was the good man's Arabic, perfected 
during seven years' captivity, that made it possible to foil the 
Evil One, with the assistance of a histrionic gift. Pero Paes 
personated an Armenian so successfully this time that no 
one found him out, and he struck up a warm friendship with 
a Turk from Suakin whom he met at Diu. This amiable Otto- 
man offered to repatriate him, and the supposed Armenian 
jumped at the idea. Fraternizing happily with a crew of mis- 
cellaneous Orientals, Father Pero Paes sailed into the Red 
Sea. At Massawa he said that he must go ashore to fetch some 
things of his that had remained there, and so he disembarked 
and walked away. He had managed to find a messenger at 
Massawa to go ahead and tell the Portuguese of his arrival. 
They sent at once to meet him on the way, and he was guided 
safely to Fremona, in spite of robbers that walked the hills by 
day, and "a large and fearsome lion** that strolled around the 
tent by night 

Ethiopia was in the throes of its habitual dynastic strug- 
gles. Each one of Lebna Bengal's grandsons and great-grand- 
sons appears to have made his bid for the Imperial throne. 
Constant upheavals were the result while these princes mur- 
dered and exiled one another, and fought the savage GaHa 
tribes by way of interlude. 

Pero Paes did not at once proceed to court. He remained at 

201 



The Land of Prcster John 

Fremona, where he catechized the so-called Portuguese and 
taught young Abyssinians. He also devoted himself to the 
study of Geez and Amharic, both of which languages he 
picked up in an amazingly short time* While so engaged he 
translated into the vernacular a Tioly little book" by the 
Jesuit Father Doctor Marcos Jorge. This was a form of brighter 
catechism in which the Church's doctrines were expounded 
painlessly in a series of dialogues. The most promising of Padre 
Pero Paes's little pupils were made to learn these dialogues by 
heart and repeat them before selected audiences. 

The result was an unqualified success. It filled their listeners 
with joy to hear these infants hold forth fluently upon "the 
height of divine mysteries,'* and the youthful theologians were 
in constant demand to go through their performance at the 
houses of local magnates. 

Pero Paes's fame as an educationalist soon reached the tem- 
porary Emperor, Za Danguil. This monarch is described as 
"very affable, and at the same time very curious." He sent for 
Pero Paes and received him graciously, inquiring politely after 
the health of the Pope and the King. 

The Emperor moreover heard the Jesuit say Mass and lis- 
tened while he preached. Father Pero Paes no doubt had 
plenty to say, but, in order not to weary anyone, he consider- 
ately cut down his sermon to "only one hour's duration. . . . 
Generally speaking," reflects Baltasar Teles, "if a preacher 
continues over an hour, his listeners are bored." 

The missionaries had great hopes of Za DanguiL Though 
he did not actually pronounce himself, he strongly inclined 
towards the Church of Rome. He composed a letter to the 
Pope, and also to the King of Portugal, Dom Felipe the sec- 
ond of those four "intruder kings" who reigned over both 
Spain and a disgusted Portugal. 

"Peace to Your Majesty!* Za Danguil wrote, and "How are 
you?" He told of the arrival of Pero Paes, and referred to the 
past victories of the Portuguese. "Now we have some enemies 
called the GaBas/* the Emperor further explains, "who lay 

202 



Success 

waste our land . . . wherefore we beg Your Majesty to send 
us warriors, and at the same time your daughter to marry our 
son that our friendship may be firm, and we may have one 
body and one heart. Our son is seven years old, and we hear 
that your daughter is three. Let us bring them up together 
with the milk of wisdom, and teach them the Holy Scriptures." 

Dom Felipe, however, was not called upon to invent an 
excuse for not sending the future wife of Louis XIII to drink 
the milk of wisdom with the small Ethiopian prince. A cer- 
tain Za Selassie rose in revolt against Za Danguil and slew him 
with his own hand. Abyssinia only calmed down again when 
Susenyos took command. 

Susenyos was a prepossessing person. His face was long, 
his forehead broad, his brown eyes pleasant and vivacious. 
He had a pointed nose, thin lips, and a thick black beard 
adorned his chin; his stature was above the average, and he 
was powerfully built. But for his dark complexion, we are told, 
he might have been a European. 

Susenyos and the Jesuits became friends at once. Since 
Pero Paes's arrival in 1603, several colleagues had succeeded 
in joining him, and the Emperor gave them some "very good 
lands" in Dembea, and permission to build a church at Gor- 
gorra, near Lake Tsana. His favour went even further than 
that he actually invited them to dine! 

This was an almost unheard-of distinction. The Emperor 
always ate in solitary glory, his greatest condescension being 
to invite a favoured and exalted few to finish what was left 
over from his repast after he had withdrawn. The Jesuits, how- 
ever, were to enjoy the unique honour of dining while the 
Emperor dined, at a table beside his own, divided from him 
only by a curtain. 

*Table" is not quite the correct word to use for the circular 
boards or trays placed on the floor on which the Abyssinians 
laid their meals. Neither in this nor in any other way had the 
amenities of dining made progress since the Ras of Angot en- 
tertained Father Francisco Alvares, almost a century earlier. 

203 



The Land of Prcstcr John 

There were, declares Baltasar Teles, "neither fork nor spoon, 
nor napkin, cruet, cinnamon-sifter, sugar-basin, salt-cellar, 
nor pepper-pot, neither dish, nor carvers, nor anything else." 
Trenchers of bread did duty both as napkins and for plates 
till they were eaten, and of course there was no tablecloth. 

Throughout the meal the curtain veiling the Emperor from 
his guests was never lifted which our chronicler suggests 
was just as well, for to see His Imperial Highness eat was 
not a pretty sight. In Ethiopia the great and noble considered 
it beneath their dignity to feed themselves; the Emperor there- 
fore sat impassive while his pages rammed balls of food into 
his mouth. These balls, made up of bread rolled and well 
kneaded by hand and dipped in sauce, were of such size that 
the pages could hardly poke them between the monarch's 
open jaws, "but still they go on putting them, not to say stuff- 
ing them, in, one after another, in the manner in which here 
in Portugal we fatten ducks for a feast" 

Susenyos's favour to the Jesuits was not a passing fancy. He 
gave them audience every day, and all their conversation with 
him, it appears, was on religious matters. Their words of wis- 
dom deeply impressed the Emperor, and he granted them 
full liberty to teach and preach throughout the land. 

In spite of protection from the throne theirs was no easy 
mission. It was not the difference between the Roman and 
the Abyssinian Churches that caused the stumbling-block 
it was their similarity. The Western priests had no new Gospel 
to preach to Christians of the East, and the great schism 
which had divided the Churches was over abstruse theologi- 
cal definitions such as most laymen are content to leave to 
doctors of divinity. Beyond this was the observance of sundry 
ancient rites dear to the people's heart, and the question of 
obedience to the Pope, who was a vague and almost mythical 
figure to the Abyssinims, a year's journey away. 

In the circumstances the missionaries* best chance of suc- 
cess depended on their personality, and, as it happened, this 
was their strong point It is certain that they compared f avour- 

204 



Success 

ably with the average Abyssinian priest. They were men of 
blameless lives and rigid morals, whereas the standards preva- 
lent in Ethiopia were very low. Also, coming as they did from 
centres of a higher civilization, the European priests were in- 
tellectually superior to their ignorant African colleagues. 
There is no denying that the Jesuits were a power for progress 
in the land. During the whole of Susenyos's reign their efforts 
were untiring for the moral and material welfare of the peo- 
ple among whom they had cast their lot They opened schools 
and taught both in Ainharic and in Portuguese; they set up a 
printing press and made new translations of the Gospels into 
Amharic, and rendered European commentaries on the Scrip- 
tures into Geez. They traced roads and they built bridges, 
some of which have been in use till modern times; they erected 
a number of churches, and they taught the Abyssinians to 
build two-storeyed houses in stone and cement 

The Jesuit mission also contributed to the general store of 
human knowledge. They studied all the Geez and Amharic 
records, and gave the world some detailed histories of the 
ancient African Empire. They took notes of the customs of its 
people, and described the geographical features of the land, 
which they explored from end to end. Father Pero Paes vis- 
ited the sources of the Nile. Father Manuel Barradas wrote 
a full description of the Kingdom of Tigre, and Father An- 
tonio Fernandes, searching for a safe route from Ethiopia to 
Malindi, penetrated into the almost unknown lands of Enarea 
and Janjeiro. 

The most powerful factor in the success of the mission was, 
undoubtedly, the personal magnetism of Pero Paes. That man 
possessed to an astonishing degree the indefinable something 
that we lamely describe by saying that Tie had a way with 
Kim.** Padre Pero Paes was everybody's friend, and the Em- 
peror simply could not do without bin. Susenyos had never 
seen such a man: *1 have everything in him, 1 * he said, "teacher, 
counsellor, and general handyman. 

Without ever having learned, it seems that the versatile 

205 



The Land of Prester John 

Pero Paes could take a hand as painter, locksmith, architect, 
mason, or carpenter, and he designed a palace for the Em- 
peror, training the workmen himself and teaching them to 
make their tools* The result was impressive, and still stands 
today. "It could quite well have served as country house for 
a European prince," was the white man's verdict upon the 
new palace, and to the Abyssinians it seemed one of the won- 
ders of the world. They had never seen a two-storeyed build- 
ing before, and they called it *a house above a house." Many 
came to the conclusion that these very knowing foreigners 
must also be worth listening to upon religious matters, and 
so they joined the Church of Rome, 

And Pero Paes converted the Emperor! His brother, Seela 
Krestos, had already become a fervent Catholic when, in 1615, 
Susenyos convened all the doctors of the Abyssinian Church 
to defend their beliefs while the Jesuits expounded theirs. 

An epic debate then took place, which continued for days. 
As might have been expected, the learned foreigners had very 
much the best of it. "These heretics,** explains Baltasar Teles, 
Tiad never studied logic, nor were they versed in syllogisms, 
enthymemas, and modes of argument, nor had they any 
knowledge of the subtleties of scholastic theology." Not for 
nothing had the European divines made a fine art of polemics! 
When they turned their batteries upon the simple Ethiopian, 
he could no more stand up to them than to the foreign cannon. 

Annihilated though they were by syllogisms, enthymemas, 
and the like, the Abyssinian priesthood remained uncon- 
vinced. Not so the Emperor. He issued a decree ordering his 
subjects forthwith to believe in the two natures Human and 
Divine, each distinct from the other, united in the Person of 
Our Lord. 

The Abuna Simon had not been present at the debate. He 
came rushing to the spot with loud protests, and the whole 
discussion was renewed The result was identical. The Abuna, 
like his fellows, was silenced but not persuaded, while the 
Emperor, more convinced than ever, reissued his prodama- 

206 



Success 

tion this time announcing death to be the penalty for those 
refusing to agree with his religious views. 

The priests of Abyssinia were all filled with horror and dis- 
may. Wailing, they threw themselves at their Emperor's feet, 
imploring him not to depart from the faith of his ancestors. 
Susenyos refused to withdraw his proclamation, and sixty 
monks of Damot threw themselves off a rock rather than vio- 
late their conscience. 

Abyssinia was shaken to its foundations- As alw r ays happens 
when religious disputes rend a nation, beside the true faith 
that makes martyrs political opportunism did not fail to ap- 
pear. Yolyos, the Governor of Ogara, having quarrelled with 
the Emperor, gathered round him a whole army of malcon- 
tents who, blessed by the Abuna, swore to kill Susenyos. The 
rebels were defeated, however. Yolyos and the Abuna both 
were slain, and their heads displayed triumphantly on a 
cushion in the Imperial tent. 

On the strength of this victory the Emperor further scan- 
dalized his subjects by ordering them to work upon the Jew- 
ish Sabbath day. "I have not changed my religion," he ex- 
plained to his court, "I have only improved it. I do not hold 
my faith because it is that of the Portuguese, nor because it 
is the faith of Rome, but because it is the true faith. And do 
not deceive yourselves for this faith I am prepared to die if 
necessary, but/* he added darkly, *all those who contradict it 
will die first" 

Here was a trumpet with no uncertain sound. Pero Paes 
could be proud of his convert's zeal. The orthodoxy of Susen- 
yos was beyond reproach, but, the chronicler observes regret- 
fully, Tie was readier to defend it by the sword than to follow 
it in his life.** It was a sore trial to his spiritual father that the 
pious Emperor was a polygamist. 

Even in this respect, however, Pero Paes got his way at last 
In 1622 Susenyos sent for the priest, made a general confes- 
sion of his whole life, and gave up all his wives except the first. 
Then/* we are told, "Padre Pero Paes felt that his seven years' 

207 



The Land of Prester John 

captivity in Arabia and the nineteen years that he had devoted 
to this mission had not been spent in vain." And the veteran 
missionary died happy a few months after that. 

Susenyos's letter to the Provincial at Goa reads like a 
lament; 

The virtuous Reverend Padre Pero Paes was father of our soul, 
bright sun of faith lighting the darkness of Ethiopia. Since our sun 
has been eclipsed and set, our joy is turned to sadness, and our 
happiness to mourning. If this paper were wide as the sky, and the 
ink like the sea, it still would not suffice to write his virtues and his 
teaching. The flowers that are scattered may not be picked again, 
nor can we cause the passed day to return, nor gather up the water 
that has been split 



208 




The Alternative Route 





Padre Antonio Fernandas of Lisbon was a good man. He was 
so good, Baltasar Teles says, that the Devil felt particularly 
bitter about him. Finding it impossible to blacken Father An- 
tonio's white soul, the foul fiend, in a fit of childish rage, 
vented his spleen by fiinging black splotches all over the wall 
of the father's cell in the College of Jesuits at Goa, 

The marks were so dark and ugly and ineffaceable as to 
leave no doubt of their infernal origin, but Father Antonio did 
not allow the Evil One to triumph. Those blots, the priest de- 
clared, were symbolic of the sin still marring his soul, and as 
such would be useful reminders of his need for spiritual im- * 
provement. The Devil, furious to find himself hoist with his 
own petard, appeared to Father Antonio one day and gave 
him a sound thrashing, 

If Father Antonio's piety exposed him to the malice of the 
powers below, it also won for him the favour of his guardian 
angel, who delivered him miraculously from at least one pre- 
dicament As the good man journeyed through Ethiopia he 
came one day to a deep river. He could not wade across with- 
out undressing, but Father Antonio was not alone, and his 
natural modesty recoiled at the idea of appearing indecent to 
the eyes of his companions. Yet he needed to cross that river. 

On the horns of this dilemma Father Antonio appealed to 

209 



The Land of Prtster John 

his guardian angel, who quite understood. Modesty, Baltasar 
Teles would have us know, is a quality that angels appreciate. 
Father Antonio was wafted suddenly across the water with- 
out the embarrassing necessity of taking off his clothes! We 
are not told if his companions enjoyed the same facility of 
transport, or if they had to put the angel to the blush. 

Father Antonio Fernandes was a thoroughgoing ascetic. His 
clothes were entirely made up of patches, his hat was battered, 
and his shoes were worn. He was a little man of frail physique, 
so emaciated by the rigours of his fasts that Jie appeared to 
have no body left. He had been an ornament to the Company 
of Jesuits since he was seventeen, and he sailed for India in 
1600, when he was thirty-one. Three years later he followed 
Pero Paes into Ethiopia and there he lived and laboured for 
nearly thirty years, preaching, teaching, and writing, correct- 
ing and translating books of theology. 

This was the man who volunteered to blaze a trail across 
the unknown lands that stretched between Ethiopia and Ma- 
lindi and proceed thence to India and to Rome, bearing let- 
ters from the Emperor to the Pope. 

When Susenyos first resolved to join the Roman Church, he 
wrote to tell the Holy Father the glad news, and he also wished 
to send his own ambassador to Rome. One Tecu Egzy, "a 
1 serious person of great prudence and valour/* was selected for 
the post, and a Jesuit priest was asked to go with him and be 
his guide in European lands. 

The only obstacles barring this pious purpose were the in- 
convenient Turks of the Red Sea. Could not some other route 
be found by which safer communications might be estab- 
lished? We find this problem recurring at intervals through- 
out the history of relations between Portugal and Prester John. 
This time someone suggested Malindi as a possible way. 

It was not a new idea. As far back as 1507 Tristao da Cunha 
had landed Joao Gomes at Malindi as a starting-point from 
which to travel to the land of Prester John. Joao Gomes had 

210 



The Alternative Route 

failed to find the route, but now it was attempted from the 
other end. 

Everybody must have realized that the unknown dangers of 
such a trial trip were likely to be quite as great as the very 
well-known peril of the Turks, yet all the Jesuits volunteered 
to take the Emperor's message partly, we are told, "because 
they held it to be a holy errand, and also for the many perils 
involved." These would be new perils, that was the attraction! 
The spirit of devotion was no doubt the dominating motive in 
the good fathers* lives, but we fancy that the spirit of adven- 
ture came in somewhere too. 

All therefore volunteered, but the great-hearted little Padre 
Antonio Fernandes was the chosen man. He tied the precious 
letters underneath his arm and, accompanied by ten Abyssin- 
ian Portuguese who wanted to go too, he set out with the am- 
bassador in March 1613. The Viceroy of Gojam, the Emperor's 
brother Ras Seela Krestos, provided them with Gafla guides 
and sent them on their way cheered by as edifying and pious 
a farewell speech as might have been delivered by their own 
Father Provincial. Seela Krestos seems to have been the lead- 
ing light among the converts of the Jesuit mission. 

Encouraged by this satisfactory pupil, Father Antonio trav- 
elled with Tecu Egzy towards the wild and vaguely defined 
outlying provinces of the Empire. They crossed the Blue Nile 
where it bends towards the north, on rafts of hides guided by 
native swimmers it took a whole day to get over with their 
luggage and then they journeyed fifty leagues due south. 

Enarea today is in the middle of Ethiopia, but at that time 
it was a borderland. South of this realm the Emperor's rule 
was felt no more, and to the east it vaguely trailed away across 
the nominally vassal states of Janjeiro and Kambata until it 
ceased to be in the wild welter of Moslem and heathen tribes 
of Harrar and Somaliland. 

The inhabitants of Enarea, black and handsome, poured 
out of their huts when the strangers appeared. They bran- 

211 



The Land of Prestcr John 

dished weapons in their hands and clamoured for a gift. For- 
tunately they had not large ideas a few blocks of rock salt 
and sundry caps made them quite happy, and before they 
could call their friends to join die fun, a providential shower 
of rain caused them to scatter while the travellers hurried on. 

The Song of Enarea was polite but cold, though he, too, 
thawed a little on receiving presents. The vicar of the local 
church, however, scowled. He knew of Susenyos's leanings to- 
wards Catholicism and fancied that Father Antonio had come 
to relieve the vicar of Enarea of his functions. A tactful visit, 
aided by a mellowing gift, caused him to view the situation 
with more optimism, and he ceased from making trouble with 
the King. 

None the less the King of Enarea disapproved of the em- 
bassy. As a tributary king he could say nothing, but he ob- 
jected to his suzerain's coquetting with foreign powers and 
with a foreign church. He told Father Antonio that he must 
on no account leave Enarea except in an easterly direction. 
Via Kambata and Bali was the right way. 

Father Antonio knew quite well that this was wrong. It 
would mean heading straight for Guardafui and never to Ma- 
lindi, but still he was resolved to reach the coast, and if one 
direction was closed to him, then he would take another. 

He expressed his willingness to travel via Bali, much to the 
King's delight. The embassy was so unlikely to get anywhere 
that the King grew kind and helpful all at once. He speeded 
Father Antonio on his way, and gave him fifty cruzados for 
travelling expenses, with profuse apologies for having no more 
to give. 

The outskirts of the neighbouring realm of Janjeiro were 
haunted by savage Galla tribes, the constant terror of more 
civilized Ethiopia. Torrential rain on this occasion kept the 
enemy from venturing out, while the travellers, soaked to the 
skin, stepped briskly through the night across a dripping for- 
est They rested at midnight under the shelter of gigantic 
trees and ate a little of their scanty store of roasted barley be- 

212 



The Alternative Route 

fore plunging down the mountain-side to a deep gorge. There 
a long and narrow plank spanned the abyss above a swirling 
torrent that foamed and boiled hundreds of feet below. The 
frail bridge bent under the slightest weight, and creaked and 
quivered like a willow wand, but from the peril of the savages 
behind there was no other path to safety. The travellers passed 
over one by one, but had to leave their mules. 

The jet-black King of Janjeiro sat perched upon a platform 
sixteen feet high. Every morning he rose before the sun, for, 
said the men of Janjeiro, there could not be two suns above 
the horizon. If his opposite number in the sky should steal a 
march upon him, then the King of Janjeiro could not appear 
that day. 

The sombre Roi Soleil kept the envoys waiting a week, for 
at the time that they arrived he was engaged in magic rites. 
It was only when he had finished casting his spells that they 
were granted an audience. He climbed down from his lofty 
perch to take the Emperor's letter with proper respect, but 
he conversed with Father Antonio at a distance, and from 
above. It was a long and solemn interview, for each time a 
phrase fell from the royal lips, the interpreter kissed his own 
fingertips and then the ground before translating it. 

His Majesty, although aloof, was gracious. He gave the 
party various things that they required, and he also gave 
Father Antonio a nasty shock by making him the present of 
a fair slave girl Father Antonio, much dismayed, explained 
that such a present would not do for him, whereupon the King 
good-naturedly exchanged her for a boy slave and a mule. 
Father Antonio promptly baptized the one and rode the other, 
so everyone was happy. 

After a pitched battle with armed robbers on the way, the 
party readied the Kingdom of Kambata, and here it is that 
first appears upon the scene the evil genius of the embassy, the 
Abyssinian Manquer. The King of Kambata would have let 
the travellers proceed if Manquer had not come and whis- 
pered in his ear. Did the King suppose it was the Emperor wto 

218 



The Land of Prester John 

had sent these men? Manquer knew better. They had left 
Abyssinia secretly with a nefarious purpose. They were going 
to send for the Portuguese to come from India with great 
force, bringing bombards those terrible engines of destruc- 
tion that killed from afar. Then Susenyos would lose his 
throne, and all men would be obliged to change their faith. 

The King of Kambata took fright and wrote to ask the Em- 
peror what to do. Manquer arranged to have the messengers 
detained for months upon the way and sent back to Kambata. 
A second set of messengers were in due course dispatched, 
but endless time had been wasted before the Emperor's an- 
swer came. 

Susenyos, although annoyed at the obstructions, could not 
usefully threaten a vassal who lived so far away. He therefore 
sent him gifts, urging him to help the travellers on their way. 
The King of Kambata, mollified, allowed the envoys to pro- 
ceed, and wrote to recommend them to the Moslem chieftain 
Alico, who ruled the neighbouring land of Alaba. This was 
really outside the Abyssinian Empire. 

At ihfo? point half the Ethiopians of the embassy announced 
that they were going home. They would never have started 
on this journey had they known what it would be like. They 
had endured enough already, and the future would be worse. 
Kambata was the last Christian land upon the way; after that 
all was Moslem and heathen to the shores of the Indian 
Ocean. If they had faced death so many times within the Em- 
jrire, what would it be beyond? 

But the prudent and valorous Tecu Egzy was not so easily 
deterred, and Father Antonio was not Portuguese for nothing. 
His native tenacity alone was quite enough to hold him on, 
besides which he felt that he was bound upon a holy errand. 
That it was likely to prove a hopeless quest he already sus- 
pected, BOW that he had samplecl the sort of countries that 
Be would have to pass througjb. Like every Portuguese of his 
generation, he had heard many true tales of shipwrecked men 
on savage shores, and their struggles to cut across African 

14 



The Alternative Route 

wilderness to civilization. How many bones had whitened in 
the forest between Natal and Mozambique? His own mission 
might well be swallowed up in the wastes of Somaliland. But 
he would only turn back if he were forced to do so. Lost in 
the immensity of unknown Africa, with nothing but bar- 
barous lands before him eastward to the sea, and southward 
to the Cape, Father Antonio said that he felt Tike an ant 
crossing a wide and crowded field; and regardless of what is 
around, intent only upon her duty, the little ant pursues her 
way, bearing her load to carry to her larder. 9 * So this little 
ant went on with the precious burden of the Empero/s let- 
ters, into the land of Alaba, where ruled the Moslem Alico. 

Father Antonio and Tecu Egzy had been recommended to 
Alico and brought him presents but Manquer had written 
first. Alico was pleased to take the gifts, but arrested the 
givers. Most of their goods were confiscated, and their horses 
and mules, while their luggage was searched for any com- 
promising letters. 

Father Antonio had his letters safe under his arm, but he 
knew that their discovery would raise a hornets' nest. It is 
true that they did not suggest exactly what Manquer insinu- 
ated, but Susenyos did say that an armed force of Portuguese 
would be very useful to him, both to help him against his 
enemies and contribute to the conversion of his subjects. To 
Moslems such as Alico it was all one whether the Ethiopians 
were Catholics or Copts, but they did not wish to see armed 
Portuguese about. 

Father Antonio decided that his message would have to 
be delivered orally, if he ever had occasion to deliver it at all 
He might be searched again at any time, so the letters must 
disappear. He had no kindling stone, so he pretended that he 
wished to smoke, and asked his captors for a light not that 
Father Antonio ever really smoked, Baltasar Teles hastens 
to assure any reader who might be shocked, nor was the habit 
widespread in Europe at the time. 

The natives of Alaba, however, all smoked heavily, it seems, 

215 



The Land of Prester John 

and they sympathetically supplied the prisoner with what he 
asked for/ Father Antonio withdrew, ostensibly to enjoy a 
quiet smoke, instead of which he burned the letters. 

He never missed them. After toying with the idea for ten 
days, Alico decided not to kill the travellers after all if they 
would agree to discontinue their voyage. Nor would Alico 
allow them to return the way they came, for fear that the 
friendly Governor of Kambata might let them out of his coun- 
try from the other side. 

Thus Father Antonio and Tecu Egzy were brought to a 
standstill half-way between the Nile and Guardafui They 
travelled back through wild and desolate lands infested by 
Gallas. Happily for them, one of their party had a friend who 
was a chief among these savages, and they happened to meet 
this man. For a consideration he agreed to take the party 
under his protection, which just saved their lives, for the next 
group of Gallas that they ran into proposed to kill them all and 
sacrifice them to the gods. 

After many such alarms among Moslems and heathen, they 
reached a mountain stronghold an amba to the safety of 
which they gladly withdrew. Father Antonio wrote to Susen- 
yos for instructions and was summoned back to court. More 
than fourteen months had been expended in this search for a 
way out of Abyssinia that did not exist 

The slippery Manquer also presented himself at court, 




smiling and brisk. To his surprise he found the Emperor bent 
on putting him to death. Manquer would have had short 
if Father Antonio, who was a gentle soul, had not 
id for his life. With "copious tears" M anquer was ban- 
firom the land and went to join the Gallas, and so met 
his fate. In his first raid in their company he broke his leg, and 
seeing him helpless, the Gallas put hfrm out of his pain accord- 
ing to their custom. As they had no knowledge of surgery, it 
was perhaps the kindest thing to do. 

We hear no more of the Malindi route. There was no get- 
ting around the Turks and the Red Sea. 

216 





Rome versus Alexandria 





Camel-drivers are Mohammed's colleagues, and that is why 
he has bequeathed his wickedness to them. Such is the opin- 
ion of Dom Afonso Mendes, Patriarch of Abyssinia. 

Dom Afonso Mendes writes with feeling, after being bul- 
lied systematically the whole way from the Red Sea coast into 
Ethiopia. The fiendish camel-drivers would not start at all 
without receiving their pay in advance, and then demanded 
gifts at intervals along the way. "The more good that we did 
to them, the worse they treated us. They made us supply 
them with food, and be their cooks as well, insisting always 
that their saucepan should be first on the fire, and if ever it 
was late, they avenged themselves by refusing to go on that 
day. We had to endure it all, not to risk having our baggage 
abandoned in the desert.** 

That desert in itself was bad enough without the camel- 
drivers. "Where the way was not over loose sand, it was across 
mountains of iron ore, the stones of which were like the cin- 
ders of an oven, and so sharp that they wear out a pair of 
shoes in one day.** As there were not sufficient camels for all 
the party to ride, they had to walk by turns, and when the 
shoes were all worn out, to put on native sandals, which 
rubbed the skin off unaccustomed feet, leaving them raw and 
bleeding. The heat was such that it melted 

217 



The Land of Prester John 

the travellers carried in their writing-cases. The only shade 
was that of thorn bushes, "which pricked more than re- 
freshed." There was nothing but hard earth to sleep upon and 
"brackish water that smelt very bad" to drink, and even that 
failed during a hideous eighteen hours. 

The last lap was over a salt desert that could only be 
crossed by night "because by day the heat is enough to as- 
phyxiate both travellers and their mounts, and shoe-leather 
is blistered as if it had been cast upon live coals." No wonder 
that, upon emerging from this inferno, the Patriarch ex- 
claimed to his companions: "Let us thank God that we are in 
Ethiopiar 

As may be seen, there was not much to choose between this 
route and Father Antonio's projected way out through 
Malindi. It had the advantage, however, that it really was 
a route and not a blind alley. Dom Afonso Mendes and his 
companions had disembarked without much trouble, not at 
Massawa but at Beilul, about two degrees farther south. The 
ruler of this region, although Moslem, was at the time on 
terms of peace and friendship with the Emperor of Ethiopia, 
and so made no attempt to cut off heads. 

The travellers* arrival was awaited impatiently by a num- 
ber of people. Ever since his profession of faith, the Emperor 
had been asking for a Patriarch consecrated by Rome, and 
the Jesuits had insisted on the necessity in every letter. "All 
is finished on our part for the good of this Empire," wrote 
Francisco de Angelis in 1622., shortly before his death. "We 
only ask for a Patriarch all cry out for a Patriarch, and if 
we do not get one soon, our labour will be wasted!" 

In consequence of such appeals, Father Afonso Mendes, 
Doctor of Theology and Professor of Latin at Evora and 
Coirabra, was consecrated at the age of forty-three for what 
would be a very different field of labour. 

The Patriarch's arrival at Fremona was a triumph, and Dom 
Afonso was delighted with the place. This is not the Ethi- 
opia that we imagined/* he wrote to his brethren at home, 

218 



Rome versus Alexandria 

"but a land as fresh and good as Portugal, if not better!" 
If the people were only more industrious, he goes on to say, 
"they need lack nothing of the necessities, or even the lux- 
uries, of life.** 

If the climate and the country pleased the Patriarch, so also 
did his flock. The Emperor received him with respectful joy; 
so did, of course, that Catholic champion Ras Seela Krestos, 
and other great ones imitated them. On February 17, 1626, 
before the highest in the land, and all his court assembled, 
Susenyos swore allegiance to the Church of Rome. All the 
Imperial princes, the viceroys and lords, ecclesiastics, monks 
and priests were made to repeat the same vow, while the 
Patriarch fulminated excommunications against all those who 
should break it. All the priests of the Abyssinian Church were 
ordered to cease officiating until they had been presented to 
the Patriarch, and as Ethiopian forms of ordination were a 
little haphazard and vague, Dom Afonso Mendes proceeded 
to reordain a number of the native clergy. 

On his side the Emperor issued the usual proclamation 
ordaining all his subjects to conform to the new ritual under 
pain of death. "These solemn proclamations," says Baltasar 
Teles, "drew the hearts of all Ethiopia to our holy f aith." 

To the Jesuits this seemed like the battle won. The Em- 
peror and his brothers had adhered to the Church of Rome, 
and men of that age had no conception of a state that did 
not follow the religion of its rulers. In every country at that 
time we find the attitude the same. The government decided 
what was sound religious truth, and coercive legislation drew 
the subjects* hearts in the rigjht way. It would be unfair to 
judge the Jesuits or the Emperor severely for the persecutions 
that they instigated or the rebellions which subsequently 
devastated the land. Religious liberty was an ideal that the 
seventeenth century did not understand, and most people 
would have thought it was a dangerous thing. Susenyos and 
the directors of his conscience sincerely felt that they were 
fighting for the truth and for the nation's goodL 

219 



The Land of Prcster John 

But they had pitted their forces against something far too 
strong. The missionaries* learning, their earnestness and de- 
votion, their moral example influenced individuals with 
whom they came into direct contact, but the heart of the 
people was untouched. The Abyssinian Church was deeply 
rooted in the past, and her traditions had been part of the 
nation's life more than a thousand years. To talk about the 
Pope's authority seemed to the Abyssinians pure imperti- 
nence, their hierarchy had flourished independently in him 
during so many centuries. That foreign priests should pro- 
pose in his name to reordain her clergy and to rebaptize her 
sons filled Ethiopia with bitterness and indignation. The 
whole thing puzzled them the more that the two religions 
were essentially the same. "We are all Christians," Baltasar 
Teles says they argued, "both those of Rome and those of 
Alexandria. We believe in Christ, and Christ will save us all. 
There is not much difference between the two faiths, both 
have their advantages and their drawbacks. Separating the 
wheat from the tares, we have chosen the best, and by this 
way we also shall be saved." 

It is not to be wondered at if the well-intentioned efforts 
of the Emperor and the Jesuits to Westernize the Abyssinian 
Church resulted in confusion. There were a number of con- 
versions some genuine and some feigned but discontent 
grew daily. 

Much trouble might have been avoided if the Patriarch 
had had experience of the country to which he had been 
called. As Father Antonio Fernandes wrote: "Experience of 
this land is necessary, for if one would proceed without it, it 
is to be feared that all may be turned inside out, and occasion 
given for revolts and risings." * A newcomer, he goes on to 
say, "is certain to think that he can shape things his own way 
as it appeared to us when first we earner 

These lines were penned before the Patriarch's arrival, and 
the writer was not thinking about him, but his case proved 
the truth. Dom Afonso Mendes, new to the country and full 



Rome versus Alexandria 

of zeal, did expect "to shape things his own way," and all at 
once. A number of small concessions, involving no dogmatic 
compromise, might have made the change less pain&il for 
the people, but during his first years in Abyssinia the Patri- 
arch was for wholesale reform. The feasts and fasts and rites 
all had to be in strict accordance with the Latin Church. 
It was only when he saw the hornets* nest that he was raising 
that Dom Afonso Mendes realized that he had gone too fast. 
He then agreed to the Emperor's request for restoring some 
of the ancient customs "that were not against the substance 
of f aith." 

The Patriarch's concessions, however, were made too late. 
The country was already in a ferment. Rebellions had always 
been common in Ethiopia, and apart from the number of con- 
sciences that were sincerely outraged, the religious question 
placed a powerful tool in the hands of every disaffected chief. 
The Emperor spent his days in quashing revolts throughout 
the land. Matters reached a climax when the mountaineers of 
Lasta slew the Viceroy of Tigre, who was a fervent Catholic. 
Susenyos marched against them with a mighty army and put 
them all to flight. The bloodshed was terrible, and though the 
Catholic party won the day, the price of victory was their 
own undoing. On every side the Emperor heard his weeping 
subjects make the same complaint. TLook, Sire,"* they said, 
"such thousands lolled! They are neither Moors nor heathen, 
but your vassals, our flesh and blood, our kinsmen! How many 
will you put to death? They cannot understand this faith of 
Rome. Leave them, Sire, to the faith of their forefathersr 

Such an appeal would melt a heart of stone, and Susenyos 
was not a monster. He was only a sincere man who had done 
what he thought was right, and the result perplexed him. 
Since his people did not take kindly to the Church of Rome, 
was he therefore to see his empire soaked in blood and torn 
asunder? "Give us back the faith of our ancestors!" was the 
cry that filled his ears, till he decided that he must give way. 
It was reluctantly that he came to such a conclusion, and he 

221 



The Land of Prester John 

was not happy about it. His own conversion to Rome appears 
to have been genuine, and he felt that he was betraying the 
truth. 

"What is a sin against God cannot be for the good of the 
kingdom," Father Manuel de Almeida gravely pointed out 
to him. The greatest concession that the Emperor could make 
conscientiously would be not to insist upon new conversions 
for the time being. But, in the case of those who had already 
joined the Roman Church "to these Your Highness cannot 
say: 1 restore to you the faith of your forefathers/ To do so 
would be a grievous sin, and I should sin were I to suffer or 
advise it Besides," he added, "if a foreigner may be allowed 
to express an opinion on the government of a strange country, 
it seems to me that for Your Highness to grant such liberty 
would be the certain ruin of your realms. It would be a cause 
of division and civil war you for Rome, I for Alexandria! 
What can result except strife, wounds, and death? That is 
obvious Abuna for one, Patriarch for the other in fact 
two kingdoms aad two kings!** T&us spoke the voice of sev- 
enteenth-century Europe, where unity of religion was felt to 
be essential to an ordered state. 

The poor Emperor listened with drooping head and melan- 
choly eyes. "What can I do?" he answered. "I have no king- 
dom left!" He was thoroughly discouraged and depressed. 
On June 24, 1632 the following proclamation was read to 
the exulting mob: 

Hear, Oh hear! 

We first gave you this faith which we held to be good, but num- 
berless people have died. . . . We therefore give you back your 
fathers* faith. Let the former priests re-enter their churches and re- 
place their Tabots. Let them say Masses, and all of you rejoice! " 

This last injunction was quite unnecessary. The *sacri- 
legiaus proclamation," as Baltasar Teles calls it, "which could 

was received with a display of frenzied joy. Men, women, 

222 



Rome versus Alexandria 

soldiers, priests, and monks behaved, the same writer says 
bitterly, Tike wild beasts let out of prison/* To the Ethiopians 
the boot was on the other leg: 

The sheep of Ethiopia have escaped 
From the hyenas of the West! 

was the refrain that blithely rose from every field and village. 
A general circumcision was performed, followed by a uni- 
versal baptism according to their ancient custom. Thus the 
people purified themselves from the errors of Rome, amid 
which devotional exercises some of the baser sort were heard 
to say: "In future we can marry and dissolve our marriages 
as often as we choose," which speaks volumes for the mixed 
motives of human nature! 

Though the people cheered the Emperor that day, Susen- 
yos was a broken man, regarded as a turncoat by both Cath- 
olic and Copt. What he had done was against his conscience 
and weighed on his mind. Shortly after, he fell ill of a low 
wasting fever, caused by poison some people said, and the 
Jesuits deemed it was the chastisement of God. 

"Your Highness is nearing your end," the Emperor's con- 
fessor, Father Diogo de Matos, informed him. "Remember 
your soul and your eternal salvation, and declare the faith 
in which you die." 

"I die in the faith of Rome,** Susenyos said in a dear voice. 
"And so I told my son." 

The Emperor felt a little better presently, and his servants 
tried to tempt his appetite with a dish of raw tripe. They suc- 
ceeded too well. The invalid ate so heartily that in the night 
he nearly died. A Galla physician, summoned to his side, 
administered pills made of chalk dissolved in wine. These 
formed a ball in his stomach,** writes Padre Manuel de Al- 
meida, "and caused Tifm such pain that he died in a few 
days.** 

Susenyos's death was the beginning of the end for the Jesuit 
mission in Abyssinia. The late Emperor's son, Fasiladas, was 

223 



The Land of Prester John 

an ardent supporter of the national Church, and on his acces- 
sion the pendulum of persecution swung the other way. The 
Emperor's uncle, Ras Seela Krestos, an ardent Catholic, was 
one of the first to feel the change. It must be owned that he 
had asked for trouble. When, in Susenyos's lifetime, the Abys- 
sinian nobles had sworn allegiance to Fasiladas as heir, Ras 
Seela Krestos had expressed his oath in unambiguous terms: 
"I swear the Prince to be his father's heir, and to obey him as 
a loyal vassal so long as he may hold by, defend, and favour 
the Catholic faith; should he do otherwise, I shall be his first 
and greatest enemy." 

Fasiladas had not forgotten this, and so began his reign by 
confiscating his uncle's property and banishing him to a dis- 
tant province. There the pious Seela Krestos had to stay for 
twenty years in very straitened circumstances, which none 
the less were not without some compensation. In his days of 
affluence, it would appear, Has Seela Krestos had been crip- 
pled with gout, whereas in the lean days of his later life his 
health greatly improved! 

The Jesuits, naturally, did not come off any better than Ras 
Seek Krestos. They had established themselves in small com- 
munities about the land, surrounded by the little groups of 
their disciples. Imperial orders soon came to dislodge them, 
beginning at Gorgorra, in Dembea, by Lake Tsana. This was 
one of the most important of their centres, and the church 
they had erected there was the pride of Ethiopia. *No one 
had ever seen anything like that church," says the Abyssinian 
chonicler. For fear that it might be profaned, the Jesuits sadly 
dismantled it before they left Two things filled my eyes 
with tears,* writes Father Manuel de Almeida. The first was 
to help despoil the altars, and to leave such a beautiful and 
sumptuous temple to be desecrated by the enemies of the 
faith; and the second was to see the multitude of poor Portu- 
guese who came to bid us good-bye, especially the widows 
and orphans who got some help from our protection, and 

224 



Rome versus Alexandria 

now with tears and cries that rose to heaven bewailed their 
desolation." 

For several years the Jesuits found themselves ordered 
from pillar to post. From Gorgorra they had to withdraw to 
Ganeta Jesu, to Colleta, into Tigre, until finally the intima- 
tion came that they must leave the country altogether. The 
Patriarch at first refused to go, but in the end he was obliged 
to yield. Several letters were exchanged between him and the 
Emperor over all this perfectly polite and dignified on 
either side. 

"I entreat Your Highness," wrote Dom Af onso Mendes, "for 
God's sake, and for the truth, that Your Highness and you* 
noblemen should inform me in writing the reason why you 
uproot and banish me. Is it for preaching a false doctrine? 
or else for scandalous sins in my life? Is iffor failing to fulfil 
the duties of my pastoral office, for being proud and harsh 
in punishment, or too careless and lax? Or is it for some 
other cause?" 

Fasiladas answered with equal restraint. He pointed out 
that it was not he but his father who had sent for the Patri- 
arch. He had acted throughout as an obedient son though 
disagreeing with his parent's views. Fasiladas further recapit- 
ulates the Ethiopians* several objections to the Church of 
Rome, and assures the Patriarch that now that they have 
reverted to the rites of their forefathers, nothing could induce 
them to change a second time. T3ow could they return to 
what they left and hated, having tasted once mere of their 
first faith?" 

It is natural that the Jesuit historian should see "abom- 
inable blindness" in this letter, but where any Tiorrible mal- 
ice 3 * comes in is not apparent. 

A more acid note creeps into the correspondence at the last 
Fasiladas did not mind rubbing in unpleasant truths. **What 
does Your Lordship mean by saying: 1 have vowed not to 
leave Ethiopia'?* asks the Emperor cuttingly. "Your Lordship 

225 



The Land of Prester John 

is not leaving Ethiopia it is she who has left Your Lordship! 
Your Lordship does not fly from her, she has fled from you, 
as the coward flies from the sight of the battlefield." Earlier 
in the same letter the Emperor refers to the expedition of 
Dom Cristovao. "They did not preach nor teach the destruc- 
tion of our ancient faith, handed down by the fathers and 
Apostles. They did not oblige us to observe any religion 
otner than our'own, which they defended and delivered from 
the assassins and robbers which were the annies of the Moors. 
They are worthy of great praise!" 

This roused the Patriarch's wrath. *With what pen and ink 
was such falseness written?" he exclaims. "Would the blessed 
martyr Dom Cristovao have shed his blood upon the fields 
of Ofla for the people of Ethiopia to keep the faith of Alex- 
andria, which they had at first? Who could think of anything 
so absurd?" 

Dom Afonso Mendes wrote this on June 19, 1634, from 

the Turks permitted them to get away. The Patriarch had 
lived and worked in Abyssinia for eleven years, and some of 
the Jesuits had been there twice that time. All were heart- 
broken to leave the country and see the fruit of their labours 
come to nothing. 

We go [the Patriarch says], since we cannot do otherwise, but 
as a mother cannot forget her child, nor a maid her attire, neither 
can we forget the many sons that we have begotten to Christ, and 
we know that if they could tear out their eyes and hearts to give 
to us, they would! 

We shall not cease by day or night to seek the welfare of their 
souls, and pray the Faroer of all light to illumine the understand- 
ing of Your Highness, to show you the truth and strengthen your 
heart to follow it, that you may not be cast into the outer darkness, 
and counted among the emperors who have persecuted the Catho- 

Fasfladas, as it happened, had BO objection to being 
counted among these. A long series of executions followed 

226 



Rome verms Alexandria 

the expulsion of the Patriarch. The Emperor's brother 
Claudius was one of the victims. Whether he really was a 
Catholic is not quite certain, and it seems that he and Fasila- 
das had fallen out on other matters besides the religious 
question, which is no doubt why he liked to enrage the 
Emperor by praising the Jesuits to the skies. Ah, these were 
men! said he. Where could priests be found such as they 
"continent, learned, prudent, careful, and always worldng 
for the good of souls' 7 ? He waxed lyrical about the Patriarch 
"so chaste and pure, a spiritual doctor, a honeycomb, a 
queen bee!** Fasiladas grew tired of hearing the Patriarch de- 
scribed in such language and silenced his brother in the end 
by cutting off his head. 

The late Emperor's secretary and chronicler, Azaje Tino, 
fared even worse, for he was stoned to death. This little man 
(Tino means small) made a stout-hearted martyr. **Who lacks 
stones?'* he cried, stooping to pick up some of those that fell 
in showers around him. Tlere is a stone, brother!** and he 
handed them back to his executioners. 

Ethiopians seem to have been wholehearted partisans 
whichever side they took. A blind beggar who was a pillar 
of the Catholic Church was much concerned for the salvation 
of a local magnate's wife who was an equally ardent Alex- 
andrian. The blind man "took it upon himself to convert her, 
and persuade her to good works.** With this altruistic end in 
view he did not fail to beg from her when she passed by. ITie 
lady glanced suspiciously at his rosary. "Are you of the com- 
munion of Alexandria,** she asked, "or that of the Portu- 
guese?** The beggar told her frankly which was his religion. 
He also told her, quite as frankly, what he thought about 
hers. "All the devils are coming upon you!** he concluded 
graphically. 

"Then you are one of them!" the good woman retorted, and 
she and her servants assaulted him and smashed his beads. 
Such reaction to his missionary efforts did not damp the blind 
man's interest in her spiritual welfare. He continued to call 

227 



The Land of Prester Jo/in 

regularly at her house. "I am going to that devil/' he told 
people pleasantly, "to see if I can do good to her soul." 

"Here comes die blind devil!" the lady would cry out each 
time that he appeared, and the two earnest Christians would 
call each other names. 

How it ended we do not know. The Father Francisco Ro- 
drigues, who told the anecdote, did not live to relate what 
happened next. He and about five other Jesuits had managed 
to remain in Abyssinia. In constant hiding, these brave men 
led hunted lives for several years, ministering secretly to 
what was still left of their flock. One after another, each in 
turn was caught and hanged, and so the Jesuit mission ended. 

Not many of the missionaries survived, for of those who 
left the country some fell victims to the Turks at Massawa 
or Suakin. The Patriarch appeared likely to meet with such 
a fate, but after a long and trying detention at Sualdn he was 
at last released and did return to India, where he lived at Goa 
to an advanced old age. 

One Jesuit was dispatched to Europe and to Rome, where 
he reported how the mission had collapsed. It was clear, sev- 
eral people said, that the Abyssinians did not like the Portu- 
guese, Send preachers of some other nationality who would 
handle them with greater tact, and Ethiopia would be con- 
verted. 

Six French Capuchins started for Abyssinia on the strength 
of this assumption. Two died on the way, and two turned 
back. The last two entered Abyssinia and were stoned to 
death. 

'"Which plainly shows," observes Baltasar Teles, "that the 
persecution of the Abyssinians is against the Catholic religion, 
and not against the Portuguese.** 

This was no doubt the truth. 



228 



The End of a Dream 




So Portugal and Prester John parted for ever. The curtain 
lifted for a season dropped again; Abyssinia wrapped herself 
once more in isolation and obscurity. As a sleeper wakened 
in the night resumes his sleep, so the mysterious mountain 
empire sank back into oblivion for nearly three hundred 
years, 

It seems that when Ethiopia did awake at last, it was too 
late. The world had been going on too long without her. A 
more formidable foe than Ahmed Granye was at her gates, 
and there was no young hero like Dom Cristovao to save her. 
This survival of an earlier age was therefore swept away, and 
the last to occupy the throne of Judah had to shoot his lions. 1 

If the Jesuits had succeeded in their mission, Abyssinia 
might have been Europeanized several centuries ago and the 
history of the last f ew years might have been different Yet 
that they should have been expelled was inevitable and natu- 
ral, nor were the Abyssinians in the least to blame for it. Nei- 
ther are the Jesuits to be reproached, except for that intoler- 
ance which they shared with all their generation. They gave 
the country of their best, only that best was not what the Ethi- 
opians needed or desired. 

This quest for Prester John is one of the blind alleys of his- 
tory, for it does not seem to have led anywhere. Yet what enr 

229 



The Land of Prester John 

thusiasm had gone into it! For a hundred years Portugal sought 
Prester John. She saved him from the Turks after she found 
him, and for nearly another hundred years tried to convert her 
protege. What was the net result of so much effort? 

The first five messengers died or disappeared. Four hundred 
of the nation's finest manhood were lost for ever, and a band of 
earnest missionaries threw away their lives upon a work that 
had no continuity. We well may ask to what purpose this 
waste. The nation gained absolutely nothing by it, and to 
individuals the quest brought perpetual ex3e, wounds, or 
death. 

Yet we must remember that none of these pioneers went to 
seek material profit. This is a strangely disinterested chapter 
in the story of mankind. Neither Afonso de Paiva, who died 
alone in Moslem lands, nor Pero da Covilham, who left his 
home for ever, nor Duarte Galvao, dying on the island of Kam- 
aran while gazing longingly across the burning waves of the 
Red Sea towards the land of Prester John, nor Dom Cristovao 
and his gay young volunteers, marching, as their elders 
guessed, to certain death, nor the Jesuit fathers who faced 
the Turkish scimitars and horrible captivity in nameless dun- 
geons one of these men were striving after earthly treasure. 
They were pursuing an ideal, a will-o'-the-wisp-like thing that 
always ran before them. 

When all is said and considered, in spite of the absurdities 
and the mistakes that go with every human enterprise, this 
age-long quest after the land of Prester John had something 
in it of man's search for the Kingdom of Heaven. That was 
really how it had begun in the mysticism of the early Middle 
Ages, and the myth went through the various stages that 
youthful illusions do go through before they die. 

The realm of Prester John at first was earthly paradise, and 
then it had no geographical boundaries. At a later date, when 
the kingdom was localized and recognized to be no more than 
human, its ruler was supposed to be the champion of harassed 

230 



The End of a Dream 

Christendom the St. George who would slay the Moslem 
dragon. The seekers went a little further and learned that it 
was they who had to save St. George or he would be devoured 
by the dragon! And when they rescued Prester John only to 
find that he was not what they imagined, they simply set to 
work once more and tried to make him what they thought he 
ought to be. It seemed they had succeeded in the end, when 
will-o'-the-wisp-like to the last the dream faded away. 

So the quest of Prester John vanished into the limbo of the 
world's lost causes. Yet perhaps because it was a movement 
born of an ideal and the spirit, and in spite of all mutual mis- 
understanding, it left vague memories in the legends of the 
land as of a good thing that once came there from afar. 

In 1860, travelling through the mountains of south-western 
Abyssinia, two Italian Capuchins were told about a sacred 
flag. This object of local veneration was carried in solemn pro- 
cession once a year. It was a banner brought by the ancestor of 
the tribal chief, who had been a stranger Christian from be- 
yond the sea. One of the travellers managed to see the precious 
relic. It was a flag of old Portugal the standard of the quinas. 

Some twenty-five years later the Viennese Dr. Philip Paul- 
itschke found the wild Galla tribes of Harrar worshipping a 
sword. It once belonged to a great hero, he was told, who 
came into the country long ago. The Austrian obtained pos- 
session of the sacred weapon and found it was a sixteenth-cen- 
tury Portuguese sword. 

In this manner Dom Cristovao's men and their descendants, 
lost to their country, lost to the world, and lost to history, live 
in the vague traditions of an alien race. 

As for die Jesuits, Moaflim Petros of the flaming beard per- 
sonifies them all The Abyssinian people cast them off, but the 
legend that remained is not unsympathetic. It has been said 
that a legend is the spirit of history without the letter, and 
this one suggests that beyond the barrier of misunderstand- 
ing that human imperfection raises between man and man, 

231 



The Land of Prcster John 

the Western priests had left behind a spark of something that 
the people recognized and understood. 

Moallim Petros [the strange story runs] cited authorities to con- 
firm every statement that he made. The monks and priests, being 
unable to confound him, rebelled and caused frim to be banished. 

The most fervent of his disciples followed him to Massawa. 
There, on the beach, they said: "We would go with thee, O our 
Father! What matters it if thy ship cannot hold us all? Did not St. 
Takla Haymanot extend his cloak over the waters and so travel to 
Jerusalem? We have faith in God, and in His wondrous works. Do 
thou entreat Him, and He will bid the sea to bear us all around thy 
shipP 

M oallim Petros prostrated himself with his face to the sand. He 
shed tears and remained long in ecstasy. Then he arose and said 
to his disciples: "Not so! You shall stay here. Without you the 
furrows would close again." He stretched out his hands to heaven 
and said: **O God, if I have taught the truth, make manifest the 
injustice of my persecutors! If my mouth has propagated lies or 
error, may this sea close over me, and let me be devoured by the 
monsters "of the deep!" 

He embarked upon the ship alone, saluted his disciples for the 
last time, and pronounced these words: **My brothers, meditate 
on the effect of the anointing that Our Lord Jesus Christ received 
in the waters of Jordan." 

And the ship sailed away. It was these last words that gave birth 
to all the doubts, the troubles and endless disputes that divide the 
people of Ethiopia still today. 

MpaBim Petros's disciples remained* but the furrows he had 
ploughed did close again. 

Portugal has long ago forgotten Prester John, and Prester 
John only remembers Portugal in legends which are like a 
people's dreams. Lost among the mountains of that enigmatic 
land are descendants of the wanderer Pero da Covilham, and 
fee heroes of Dom Crist6vao da Gama's army black men 
whose ancestors were brought up at Dom Manuel's gorgeous 
court, whose earlier f oref athers were Gothic kings. 

But these lost pioneers have left more than their blood be- 



The End of a Dream 

hind. Their sojourn in the land is also marked by stone memo- 
rials. In the heart of Africa we still may find a concrete frag- 
ment of old Portugal that has survived centuries of sun and 
storm. There is something of the sadness of a vision that has 
fled that haunts the crenellated towers of the ruins at Gondar. 



23S 




Notes 




CHAPTER 1 

1 Azuiza: Chronica d?El-Rei Dom Joao I, Parte HI, p. 63. 

2 Diogo Gomes: RelagSo do descobrimento da Guine. (Published in Bulle- 
tin of thejSociedade de Geografia de Lisboa, 1898. ) 

8 See "Do sigjlo national sobre os descobrimentos" by Jaime Ccrtesao, in 
Lusitania, January 1924. 

4 Castanheda: Historic, do Descobrimento e Conquista da India pelos POT- 
tugueses. Liv. I, Cap. i. 

CHAPTER 2 

1 Caspar Correa. 

2 Francisco Alvares: Verdadeira Informofao das terras do Preste Joao, p. 
100, 

* Ibid., p. 127. 

* Caspar Correa: Lendas da India, m, p. 49. 

CHAPTER S 
1 Comentarios, Parte I, Cap. liv. 



2 Cflrtos de Afonso. Com. Parte n, Cap. xftc. Correa: Lendas, n, p. 139. 
De Albuquerque, I, p. 277. 

8 Translations of this letter, with slight variations, are to be found in F. 
AL^ares, Castanheda, and Damiao de Gois. 

4 Cartas, I, p. 302. 

Cartas. 

Carto? de Afonso de Albuquerque, V, p. 412. 

Ibid., I, p. 302. 

s Ibid., VII, p. 194. 

Ibid., VH, p. 67. 

10 Lendas da India, It, p. 327. 

11 See Lendas da India; also Cartas, L 

xs Damiao de Gois: Gronica do Felicissimo Ret D. Emanael, p, 196. 

235 



Notts 

CHAPTER 5 

1 Cartes, III, p. 167. 

CHAPTER 9 

* ALvares Verd,, Inf., Cap. criii, p. 148. 

2 Ibid., p. 1S7. 

3 Castanhoso: Historic, Cap. vi 

4 Gzrfcw, 1, p. SSO. 

s This letter is published in Fr. Francisco de S. Luiz's notes to Andrade's 
Vide de D. Joao de Castro, p. 442. Esteves Pereira also reproduces it among 
the appendices to his edition of Castanhoso. 

c See letters of D. Cristovao da Gama, published in Esteves Pereira's edi- 
tion of Castanhoso. 

7 Anonymous report dated from Goa, December 8, 1541, published in VoL 
X of Return Mthiopicarum Scriptores Qcctdentales, edited by Beccari. 

8 Diogo do Couto: Decada, V. 

* Anonymous report. Caspar Correa calls him Antonio de Sousa. 
Correa: Lendas, IV. 

11 Diogo do Couto: Decada, V. 

CHAPTER 10 

1 Castro: Roteiro de Goa at& Soez, p. 246. 

2 Correa: Lendas da India, IV. 

CHAPTER 20 
i Beccari, XII, p. 54, 

CHAPTER 21 

1 This was written before the outbreak of the present war. Since then de- 
liverance has come to Abyssinia, and a new chapter, quite as exciting as any 
of the pas^ has been written in the story of that strange k*- 



236 




PART! 

Conquest of Ceuta, which marks the real beginning of Portugal's quest 
for India and for Prester John, August 21, 1415. 

Death of Infante Dom Henrique, who first started the quest, 1460. 

Envoy from Benin arrives in Portugal and tells the tale of Ogan, 1486. 

Bartolomeu Dias sailed to discover Cape of Good Hope, 1486. 

Af onso de Paiva and Pero da Covilham set out for Ethiopia overland. 
May 7, 148T. 

Death of Af onso de Paiva at Cairo, ? 

Pero da Covilham reached Abyssinia, 1492 or 1493. 

Departure of Joao Comes, Joao Sanches, and Sid Mohammed for the 
land of Prester John, April 5, 1506. 

Arrival at Malindi, February or March 1507. 

Picked up, still at Malindi, fay Francisco de Tavora, April 4, 1508. 

Landed near Guardafui, April 18, 1508. 

Arrived in Abyssinia, ? 

Matthew dispatched with letter for Dom Manuel, 1510 (?) 

Arrival at Dabul and imprisoned, November 1512. 

Rescued and brought to Goa, December 1512. 

Left Goa for Cannanore, before December 16, 1512. 

Sailed from Cannanore for Portugal, 3rd or 4th week January 1513. 

Arrived in Lisbon, February 24, 1514, 

Sailed with Duarte Galvaos embassy, April 7, 1515. 

Arrived at Goa, September 2, 1515. 

Sailed with Lopo Scares for the Red Sea, February 1517. 

Death of Duarte Galvio on Kamaran Island, June 9, 1517. 

Matthew and Francisco Alvares arrived back in India, August or Sep- 
tember 1517. 

237 



Chronology 

Arrival of Diogo Lopes Sequeira as Governor, September 7, 1518. 

Diogo Lopes sailed for Red Sea, taking Matthew and Francisco Alvares, 
January 8, 1520. 

Arrived at Massawa, April 7, 1520. 

Meeting of Diogo Lopes and Bahr Nagach, April 17, 1520. 

Instructions issued by Dom Rodrigo de Lima as ambassador to Prester 
John, April 25, 1520. 

Departure of embassy, April 30, 1520. 

Death of Matthew at Bizan, May 23, 1520. 

Arrival of embassy at Debaroa, June 28, 1520. 

Entered province of Tigre, July 29, 1520. 

Met Saga Zaab, August 1520. 

Entertained by Ras of Angote, September 14, 1520. 

Arrived at Emperor's camp, October 10, 1520. 

Received at court, October 20, 1520. 

Personal interview with the Emperor, November 19, 1520. 

First dispatch of embassy, February 1521. 

Returned to court, April 1521. 

Arrival of letters from Dom Luiz de Menezes with news of Dom Man- 
uel's death, April 15, 1523. 

Sailed at last from Massawa, taking Saga Zaab as ambassador to Portu- 
gal, April 28, 1526. 

Arrived at Goa, November 25, 1526. 

Sailed from Cannanore for Portugal, January 4, 1527. 

Arrived in Lisbon, July 24, 1527. 

PART II 

Invasion of Ethiopia by Ahmed Grany6, 1527. 

Father Francisco Alvares was sent to Rome, September 1531. 

Dom Joao Bermudez appointed Patriarch and sent to Europe, 1535. 

Arrived in Lisbon (probably), 1537. 

Viceroy Dom Garcia de Noronha sailed for India, 1538. 

Dom JoSo Bennudez sailed, 1539. 

Dom Garcia died at Cochin, 1540. 

Dom Estevao da Gama succeeded him as Governor and sailed for the 

Red Sea, 1541. 

Fleet arrived at Massawa, February 16, 1541. 
Returned to Massawa from Suez, May 22, 1541. 
Departure of Dom Crist6vao da Gama's expedition, June 9, 1541. 
Arrival at Debaroa, June 18, 1541. 

Departure from Debaroa with Queen, December 15, 1541. 
Capture of Amba Sanayt, February 2, 1542. 
Arrival of letters from Massawa, end of February 1542. 

238 



Chronology 

First battle with Granye*, April 4, 1542. 

Second battle with Granye, April 16, 1542. 

Capture of Simen mountains, August 1542. 

Dom Crist6vao's last battle, August 28, 1542. 

Arrival of Emperor Galawdewos, September or October 1542. 

Emperor's army marched, February 6, 1543. 

Defeat and death of Granye*, February 22, 1543. 

Castanhoso decided to leave Abyssinia after Christmas 1543. 

Sailed from Massawa, February 16, 1544. 

Arrived in India, April 19, 1544. 

PART IE 

Letter of Dom Joao III to Galawdewos, promising to send him a new 
and better Patriarch, March 13, 1546. 

Arrival of Padre Goncalo Rodrigues in Abyssinia to prepare the sround 
May 16, 1555. 

Patriarch Dom Joao Nunes Barreto arrived at Goa with Bishop Dom 
Andre de Oviedo, September 13, 1556. 

Bishop arrived in Ethiopia, March 25, 1557. 

Death of Galawdewos, May 23, 1559. 

Brother Fulgencio Freire attempts to reach Ethiopia, 1560. 

Rebellion of Bahr Nagach, 1561. 

Andre Gualdames killed by Turks at Massawa, 1562. 

Death of Patriarch at Goa, 1562. 

Death of Dom JoSo Bermudez in Lisbon, 1570. 

Death of Dom Andre de Oviedo at Fremona, 1577. 

Departure of Fathers Antonio de Monserrate and Pero Paes for Abys- 
sinia, February 3, 1588. 

Captured by Arabs off Dofar, February 14, 1589. 

Left King Omar's realm, June 27, 1589. 

Reached Sana, in Yemen, July 1589. 

Transferred to Turkish galley at Mocha, 1594. 

Ransomed and returned to India, 1595. 

Departure and death of Father Abraham de Georgis, 1595. 

Death of last Jesuit left in Abyssinia, 1597. 

New departure of Pero Paes for Abyssinia, March 22, 1603. 

Arrived at Massawa, April 26, 1603. 

Reached Fremona, May 15, 1603. 

Emperor Za Danguil wrote to the Kong of Portugal, June 26, 1604. 

Arrival of Fathers Antonio Fernandes and Francisco Antonio de Angelis* 
July 13, 1604. 

Arrival of Fathers Luiz de Azevedo and Lourencp Romano, July 6, 1605. 

Accession of Emperor Susenyos, 1605. 

239 



Chronology 

Conversion of Susenyos s brother, Ras Seek Krestos, 1610. 

Father Antonio Fernandes goes to seek Malindi route, March 1613. 

Returned to Abyssinian court, September 1614. 

Theological debate which convinced the Emperor, 1615. 

Arrival of Fathers Diogo de Matos and Antonio Bruno, June 11, 1620, 

Complete conversion of Emperor, beginning of 1622. 

Death of Father Pero Paes, May 23, 1622. 

Nomination of Patriarch Dom Afonso Mendes, July 1622. 

Death of Father Francisco Antonio de Angelis, October 21, 1622. 

Arrival of Fathers Manuel Barradas, Luiz Cardeira, Francisco de Car- 

valho, and Manuel de Almeida, 1623. 
Arrival of Patriarch at Goa, May 28, 1624. 

Arrival in Ethiopia accompanied by six other Jesuits, June 21, 1625. 
Emperor's public submission to die Church of Rome, February 11, 

1626. 

Revolutions and unrest, 1628-32. 
Battle against rebels of Lasta, followed by restoration of national church, 

June 1632. 

Death of Susenyos, September 1632. 
Expulsion of Jesuits, 1634. 



240 





Bibliography 





(Dates given are those of earliest and last editions) 

PART I 

AFONSO DE ALBUQUERQUE: Cartes seguidas de documentos que as elutir 

dean, 7 vols. (Published by Academia das Ciencias de Lisboa, 

1884-1935.) Documents with reference to Prester John are to be 

found in every volume of this series. 
Alguns Documentos do Archivo National da Torre do Torribo. (Lisboa, 

1892.) 

BRAZ DE ALBUQUERQUE: Comentarios do Grande Afonso de Albu- 
querque. (Lisboa, 1557. Coimbra, 1923.) 
Carta das novis que vieram a el Eey Nosso Senhor do Descobrimento do 

Preste lohm. (Lisboa, 1521. London, British Museum, 1938.) 
CASTANHEDA: Historia do Descobrimento e Conquista da India pelos 

Portugueses, I, II, in, IV. { Lisboa, 1551. Coimbra, 1924.) 
DAMIAO DE Gois: Cronica do Felicissimo Eel D. EmanueL (Lisboa, 

1566. Coimbra, 1923.) 
: Legatio magni indorum imperatoris Presbyteri Joannit ad Emanu- 

elem Lusitaniae Regem. Anno Domini MDXIII. (Antwerp, 15S2.) 
: Fkfes, religfo, moresque jEthiopum sub Imperto Preciosi Joannit. 

(Louvain, 1540.) 
Documentos Arabicos para a historia p&rtugueza copiadof doa origmaes 

da Torre do Jornbo e vertidos em portugues par JoSo de Sauza. 

(Lisboa, 1720.) 
FRANCISOO ALVARES: Verdodeha Informagao das Terras do Preste Joao 

das Indus. (Lisboa, 1540, and 1889.) 
GASPAK CORBBA: Lendas da India, II, HE, IV. Written between 1512 

241 



Bibliography 

and 1561. (Published, Lisbon, 1858-66. Reprinted, Coimbra, 
1924.) 

JOAO I>E BABROS: Decadas da Asia, I, II. (Lisboa, 1552. Last complete 
edition, 1778.) 

PART II 

MIGUEL DE CASTANHOSO: Historic das cousas que o muy esforcado 
capitao D. Christovdo da Gama fez nos Reynos do Preste Joao 
(Losboa, 1564.) An edition in modernized spelling has been 
brought out by A. C. Pires de Lima (Porto, 1936). Another ver- 
sion taken from a manuscript in the Biblioteca da Ajuda was pub- 
lished by Esteves Pereira (Lisboa, 1896), entitled: Dos Feitos de 
D. Christovao da Gama, tratado composto por Miguel de Costa- 
nhoso. This edition has very useful notes and appendices. 

DOM JOAO BERMUDEZ: Breve Relation de embaxada que o Patriarcha do 
Joao Bermudcz trouxe do Emperador de Ethiopia, vulgarmente 
ckamada Prestc Jodo. (Lisboa, 1565. Reprinted, 1844.) 

CASPAR CORREA: Lcndas da India, IV. 

DIOGO DO COUTO: Decadas, V, \1. (Lisboa, 1602, 1778.) 

DOM JOAO DE CASTRO: Roteiro de Goa a Suez. 

An account of Dom Crist6vao da Gama's expedition is also to be 
found in the History of Ethiopia by Pero Paes, and Baltasar Teles repro- 
duces it in his Historia de Etiopia a A/to. He says that Pero Paes heard it 
from the sons of the survivors of the famous expedition. Paes's narrative, 
however, is no more than a paraphrase of that of Miguel de Castanhoso, 
as are also the accounts given by Diogo do Couto and Caspar Correa. 
Castanhoso and Bermudez are the only eyewitnesses who have recorded 
their experiences almost the only ones who ever got away to tell the 
tale and between the incoherent self-glorification of the pseudo- 
patriarch and Castanhoso's modest and straightforward narrative it is 
impossible to hesitate. Castanhoso's account has, moreover, the ad- 
vantage of having been written immediately after the events that it de- 
scribes. Caspar Correa, who met him in India in 1544, says that he 
brought the manuscript with him. Correa's own story must have been 
the next one to be written. He reproduces Castanhoso almost word for 
word, and any extra details that he puts in cannot have been derived 
from any other source, since no one else had yet returned from Abyssinia. 

Diogo do Couto does no more than repeat Castanhoso with a few 
additions that he may have heard from a certain Diogo Dias, one of Dom 
CristovSo's old companions, who reached India after many years. Diogo 
do Couto knew this man, and says that he vouched for the accuracy of 
Castanhoso's book. 

242 



Bibliography 

That is more than anybody has ventured to do for Dom Joao Bermu- 
dez's rather confused narrative, written twenty years after the events. 
The clearest impression that it leaves the reader is what a fine fellow 
Joao Bermudez felt himself to be. Dom Cristovao da Gama that very 
capable young man, who had been commanding ships and handling 
men five or six years before he met Joao Bermudez is represented as 
an irresponsible boy entrusted by his brother to the Patriarch's care; 
and it is the ex-physician and improvised priest who teaches Vasco da 
Gama's son how battles should be fought! 

PABT HI 

BAI/TASAR TELES: Historia de Etiopia a Alta. Coimbra, 1660. 

A valuable compilation which incorporates large portions of Almeida 
and Paes, as well as a number of contemporary letters. An abridged edi- 
tion has been published by A. de Magalhais Basto. Porto, 1936. 
Cronica de Susenyos. Translated by Esteves Pereira. Lisbon, 1900. This 

work has especially valuable notes. 
DAMIAO DE GDIS: Fides, relizio* moresque JEfhiopwn sub impeiio 

Pretori Joannis. Louvain, 1540. Coimbra, 1741. 
DIOGO DO Couro: Decodes, VI, VII. 
Rerum Mthiopicarum Scriptores Occidental's inediti a sseculte XVI ad 

XIX. 16 vols. Published by Beccari, Rome, 1903-15. 
This monumental series includes the histories of Manuel de Almeida 
and Pero Paes, the works of Manuel Barrades and Afonso Mendes, be- 
sides most of the correspondence of the Jesuits. 

Two very useful modern works embracing the whole period are: 
Conde de Ficalho: Viagens de Pero da Covftham. Lisbon, 1896. 
C. F. Hey: Romance of the Portuguese m Abyssinia. London, 1929. 

English translations of the narratives of Francisco Alvares Casta- 
nhoso and Bermudez have been made by the Hakluyt Society, as also of 
the Commentaries of Bras de Albuquerque. I have not made use of any 
of these, however, and the translations that are given here are mine. 
Living, as I do, in Portugal, I have had no opportunity to see the Eng- 
glish editions of these books. 



243 



A NOTE ON THE TYPE 
The text of this book has been set in Caledonia* 
a Linotype face designed by W. A. JDitriggins. 
Caledonia belongs to the family of printing 
types catted "modern" by printers a term 
used to mark the change in style of types thai 
occurred about the year 18OO. Caledonia bor- 
ders on the general design of Scotch Modern,, 
but is more freely dratun than that letter- 

The book u>as compared, printed, and bound 
by The Plimpton Press, Norwood, Massachu- 
setts. 




HERJB is the story of Prester John, the !eg- 
endary ruler of an undiscovered country of 
tbe Far JBast, a region as strangely fascinat- 
ing to tbe Europeans of that day as tbe 
mountains of the moon and as over a 
century of exploration was to prove 
oearly as inaccessible. Here too is the whole 
history of the relarionsJhip between Portu- 
gal and Ethiopia from the arrival in 1442 
of the first Portuguese to venture into the 
territory to the expulsion in 1634 of the 
Portuguese Jesuits. 

It was not until late in the fifteenth cen- 
tury that Prester John passed from the 
realm of legend to assume tremendous 
stature as a potential ally against the 
heathen, and the lost kingdom, the strong- 
hold of the Abyssinian ISfegus, was found 
to have its roots not in Asia but in Africa. 

The chronicling of this period has been 
highlighted by fabulous rales - of a glam- 
orous queen marooned in a. mountain fort- 
ress approachable only by means of a 
pulley basket; of magnificent battle actions 
replete with sword dashings and the roar 
of the arcjuebusiers, of a lofty hermitage 
inhabited only by mummies. But, more 



rhi.s it is a revealing story of socteenth- 
century Jesuitism, of soldiers and priests 
tireless in tfogir efforts to Christianize the 



Ethiopians according to the precepts of the 
Church erf Rome, defeated by the peculiarly" 
stubborn Abyssinian brand of Catholicism. 
Drawing for her source material upon 
the wealth of contemporary record, fixe 
author has created a rich and colorful pic- 
ture of an extraordinary era of European 
exploration and missionary endeavor 
one worthy of comparison with Alarco 
Polo's account of his famous I ourner.